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Loosing Teeth, American Dental Association

For want of a nail the kingdom was lost

 By Dr. Gifford Jones

George Herbert in 1640 wrote. “For want of a nail, the horse’s shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. And for want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.” A report from the American Dental Association shows that due to a series of errors and misconceptions many North Americans lose precious teeth. Why does it happen, and what can you do to keep your teeth for a lifetime?

The American Dental Association measured the dental I.Q. of 1,200 Americans. The result was shocking. 50 per cent of respondents claimed they didn’t have plaque. But everyone has “dental rust”, called plaque, a soft, sticky, colourless, bacterial film that forms continually on teeth. It eventually hardens into calculus (tartar) which causes inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and pries teeth away from the gum.

Only 4 per cent of respondents believed they had gingivitis. Yet surveys show that 75 per cent of adults have early inflammation of the gums.

It’s not normal for gums to bleed when brushed or flossed. Yet 50 per cent of respondents failed to recognize this symptom as an early sign of red, swollen gums. Only 44 per cent flossed their teeth daily. And a mere 8 per cent listed mouth rinses as a way to help control plaque.

A combination of myths and poor dental hygiene makes dental cripples of millions of people. Two out of five North Americans over 19 years of age have lost teeth. By age 64 more than half the population have no teeth. And what a catastrophe that in Scotland by 16 years of age, 44 per cent of the Scotch are without teeth.

400 years ago Miguel de Cervantes realized the misfortune of losing teeth. He wrote, “For I would have you know, Sancho, that a mouth without molars is like a mill without a stone, and a tooth is more precious than a diamond.” It’s a greater tragedy today when simple hygiene could make teeth last a lifetime.

How can you prevent your dentist from saying, “The teeth are O.K., but the gums are so diseased your teeth are about to fall out.” Brushing after each meal is a good start. You also need an angled “reach toothbrush” to remove food from behind the molar teeth. But regular brushing alone is not the entire answer to keep teeth and gums healthy.

Professor Givanni of Padua, Italy, pointed to the right direction in the 15th century. “If all particles of food were removed from between the teeth after each meal and the mouth cleansed night and morning, care could be effective”, he reported. Trapped food promotes infection and then toxins attack enamel and gums.

Today, the use of wooden stimudents along with dental floss will remove food particles. This opens up natural pathways between teeth and gives them breathing space. Regular use of stimudents and floss would result in a massive decrease in dental disease.

The American Dental Association also recommends mouth washes to help fight bacteria and plaque formation. In addition, sound dental hygiene includes a visit to your dentist twice a year to remove stubborn calculus in difficult locations.

Tooth decay and gingivitis tends to run in families. But it’s rarely a genetic problem. The cause is faulty dental habits which also run in families. The continual bathing of teeth in sugar cereals, sweet rolls, candy, gum and sugar snacks is often a familial habit as well.

Dentists are concerned today about a new syndrome which they call, “medication caries”. If you’re not careful the medicine that cures your allergy or infection may set the stage for tooth decay. It comes as a jolt to most people that medicine contains sugar. Even more shocking is the fact that sugar is the primary sweetener in the majority of medicines. The amount can range from 25 to 60 per cent.

My advice is “never get lazy about dental hygiene”. Nor should medical consumers agree to have a tooth removed that could be saved. Extracting an abscessed tooth is an out-moded remedy. It leaves a hole which allows adjacent teeth to drift out of position disturbing the normal bite. One dental extraction involves more than the loss of a tooth.

Today, a combination of ill-founded myths and laziness results in a losing battle against tooth decay and gum disease. After all it was for want of a nail that the kingdom was lost! The tooth is the nail by which the whole dental system is lost.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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