A Toothsome Tale of Teeth

Why are diseases of the mouth not given the same amount of priority as others?


AsianScientist (Nov. 1, 2016) – Remember when you were five or six, and were perpetually told for the next few years to brush your teeth day and night so your teeth “wouldn’t fall out?” I had my dentist tell me the same story earlier this year, verbatim.

“If you don’t take care of this now, your teeth will fall out.”

I am about 5.5 times older than I was when my mom first told me to brush my teeth.

We’ve all had that one dream where all your teeth fell out—or in my case, just my two front teeth had fallen out—and this was one instance where I did not want it to come true.

I didn’t, and don’t, look like a pirate with scurvy, mind you. Apart from the gap between my two front teeth (diastema is the proper clinical term, I’ve learned), my teeth appeared fine. However, I begrudgingly made that appointment because I had bleeding gums for two weeks. It’s not a pleasant feeling to brush your teeth and see your toothbrush covered in blood.

WebMD informed me that I probably had some form of gum disease, such as periodontitis. Paranoid, I scooted off to the dentist only to be informed that I had to have scaling and root planing procedure done to get rid of all the plaque build-up in my teeth so that “my teeth don’t fall out” and to prevent “further bone loss”. So, I had that terrible procedure done and dusted with in three long visits.

During those visits, the dental hygienist would regale me with horror stories about patients who were negligent about their dental health: people who died of a heart condition because their teeth teeth were infected with Streptococcus mutans; a high-profile story about a boy who died because bacteria from his abscessed tooth traveled to his brain… the moral of the story? Bacteria kills.

The path to a healthy mouth

The reason I disclosed my gum health status is because dental health, much like mental health, are not often talked about as pillars of healthy living. We all know to sleep eight hours a day, eat your fruits and vegetables, and not be sedentary. Brushing your teeth and keeping a healthy mouth is just sort of assumed once you’re an adult. Diseases of the mouth are just not a pressing issue in the same way other high-profile diseases are; in fact, the World Health Organization deems them ‘neglected.’ In low- and middle-income countries, a combination of sugary diets and poor dental health among children affects learning outcomes in school, which, on a long term scale, will affect the productivity of the nation.

The path to healthy teeth and gums is apparently more complicated than just brushing, flossing and mouth rinsing. I have learned myself in the past year that there is a whole host of dental recommendations that are unclear regarding the best way forward in maintaining optimal gum health. For instance, flossing everyday isn’t exactly the holy grail of dental hygiene practices. Did your jaw just drop? Mine did too, when I first read that.

There is little evidence to support that flossing ‘reduces plaque one after one and three months’. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, most dentists will probably argue that some level of flossing is better than nothing. (It would probably be different if everyone was a technically perfect flosser, meaning that floss should ‘curve around the base of each tooth.’ NEXT PAGE>>>

Annabel is currently a 2nd year Masters in Public Health student at Yale University. She received her MEng in biomedical engineering from Imperial College London in 2010. She spent the summer of 2014 researching substance abuse in Tanzania. She has a keen interest in food, yoga and metal music.

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