“Why should I care about flossing my teeth when my husband just died?”, I whined to Ellen Marsten, my dental hygienist, who clearly cared more about my oral care than I did. Not only had I not cared after he died, there was a good period of time during his illness that I’d flop into bed at the end of the day without giving a thought to my teeth. I give Ellen credit for treating me with gentle compassion as she scraped the plaque off my teeth. She expressed sympathy for my loss, and skipped her usual teaching moment.
But kindness couldn’t undo everything. A routine X-ray demonstrated an abscess forming above a back molar. Off I went to the root canal specialist, for an expensive afternoon. The root canal specialist, Amy Amaro, DMD, said that these abscesses can break through the barrier to the brain, and can cause very serious infections. I thought to myself – all this because I didn’t floss?
When I talked it over with my dentist, Debra Daren, DDS, her insights made me appreciate how she is very much a part of a medical team. Dentists look at us in a unique way, and they can help us to catch problems before they hatch. It was she who found the tell-tale lymph node on my husband’s neck; he was treated, and the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was not his cause of death. And it was she who caught an abscess before I perceived it.
So when Dr. Daren speaks, I listen. Here’s what she says...
Flossing is the single most important thing you can do to eliminate plaque build-up.
Brush twice a day with an electric toothbrush.
(Really, this takes 5 minutes a day. Multiply that by 365 days in a year, and that’s 1825 minutes, or 30 hours. If you can save $3000 on a crown, that’s like making $100 an hour. If you can find a better deal, please let me know!)
See your dentist regularly. This could be every 6 months if your oral health is very good, or 3-4 times per year if it’s complicated.
Regular check ups might include X-rays. Dentists use X-rays carefully, to minimize exposure to radiation. But they provide important information about decay under a crown, or periodontal disease, or endodonic problems, an abscess or a failing restorative margin. Interrupting periodontal disease early can save teeth.
Be sure to update your dentist regarding any changes in your general health status. Some medications can influence oral health. People with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or other diagnoses can be susceptible to dental problems due to the medications they take.
Even people with partial or full dentures need to see a dentist for a check of general health, to rule out oral cancers.
Not your grandfather’s dentist
Modern dentistry is really quite comfortable. If fear is keeping you away, do whatever you need to do to learn more. It might be helpful to accompany a friend to a cleaning and check-up. Or ask for an appointment to chat with a dentist and get a tour of the office. I guarantee you that you will be pleasantly surprised at how pleasant the experience can be. Dentists no longer allow their patients to experience pain. But it gets even better. “Dentists can make you feel better about yourself”, says Dr. Daren. “I can repair a small chip on that front tooth, or whiten yellowing teeth.” Having a great smile makes you feel more confident.
The Take Away
• Brush with an electric toothbrush
• See your dentist regularly
• Show off that phenomenal smile!