Whether it’s here in Hong Kong or at home, we all hear the common advice to have a regular check-up with a dentist or dental surgeon twice a year. But do you know why medical professionals are always urging people to make a biannual appointment? Dental Surgeon Dr Kim Lee explains the reason.
More than just the teeth!
There is a misconception that a dental surgeon merely “looks at your teeth”. In fact, during a dental check-up, you’re assessed first for all kinds of things, from facial abnormalities or asymmetry to the state of your jaw muscles and joint. Dental surgeons are in an unique position of helping identify undiagnosed or undisclosed medical conditions which may not even be apparent to the patient because they’re pain-free.
The oral cavity is then assessed, including soft tissues (lips, palate, tongue, floor of mouth and so on) to look for any swellings, ulcerations, masses, tenderness or colour changes. An oral screening may be performed so early treatment can start if there are any signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer can be cured if caught at an early stage; there’s a very high 5-year survival rate (above 85%).
Next, your gum health and teeth are checked. This can include examinations and x-rays to assess clinically and radiographically for various potential problems. These include the following:
Dental caries or cavities (ie decay) are usually painless, so the patient may be unaware they have a problem. At this stage, a simple dental filling will solve the issue; but if the decay isn’t attended to, the tooth can become sensitive or even very painful as the decay spreads and gets closer to the nerve. More complex and costly treatment might then be required, such as root canal treatment or extraction. I should also stress that an extracted tooth or teeth can require more complex restorative options, such as dentures, bridges or implants.
Likewise with gum problems, often patients are unaware they have gum disease (periodontal disease); it’s generally not painful early on, and is often, but not always, as a result of poor oral hygiene. (Other factors can include diabetes and smoking.) So, early screening and detection is essential. If periodontal disease is left untreated, patients may lose the affected teeth. Early detection and identification is key!
We’re seeing more and more cases of teeth grinding. The exact cause is unknown but there’s a strong correlation with stress. Either the patient will gradually wear down their teeth, or parts of a tooth may fracture due to the increasing forces. Patients may be unaware of grinding because it happen at night as they sleep. In extreme cases, I’ve seen a patients’ teeth split in half due to excessive clenching forces; these cases required extraction.
As you can see, dental diseases can be diagnosed and treated easily in their infancy. That’s the key to why patients are advised to have six-monthly dental check-ups.
Apart from maintaining your oral health and treatment of any diseases, what are other reasons to visit a dental surgeon?
If you’re unhappy with the shape, shade or appearance of your existing teeth, there are modern techniques to create a more aesthetically-pleasing result. Patients can also seek treatment for cosmetic matters; orthodontic treatment (braces) for misaligned teeth, or a teeth-whitening procedure for “yellow” or “dark” teeth, for example. Those who tend to snore may want to have their snoring patterns assessed, so a snore guard can be made and fitted to reduce or eliminate those distracting night-time sounds.
There is also evidence in the medical literature that links poor oral health and systemic health implications, namely cardiovascular disease, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, pre-term and low-birth-weight babies. Most patients with these chronic conditions probably don’t think that a problem in their mouth can affect their heart or bones.
Dr Lee’s 7 tips for good oral hygiene
- Brush twice daily; spit rather than rinse out, and don’t brush too hard. An electrical toothbrush is better.
- Clean your teeth interdentally by flossing or using interdental brushes. Do this daily at night time, to get rid of bacteria between your teeth. These are the sites that normal brushing can’t reach.
- Use mouthwash for antibacterial properties and nicer fresher taste.
- Follow general dietary advice by reducing the frequency and amount of sugar you consume.
- Chewing gum can help in some instances to neutralise acid content.
- It’s best not to brush your teeth straight after eating food; this is especially so if you have an acidic diet – fruit, salad dressings, carbonated drinks and so on.
- Have a biannual check-up to assess your oral health.
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