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Keep your teeth till you die

Published: 
Monday, November 10, 2014

Like a meat grinder having a fight with a blender. 

That’s how my pal Elle described the noise of the dentist’s instruments as a search-and-rescue job was undertaken on her lovely mouth.

“It’s just not fair,” she said, trying to pout though one half of her face was frozen by anaesthetic.

For all of her adult life, Elle has been a dutiful dental client—paying through the nose for orthodontic care, getting her teeth cleaned twice a year, flossing twice a day, brushing after every meal.

Now, life was beating up on her gums. “I feel like a little old lady,” she moaned.

A “periodontal issue” was how the specialist described the disloyalty of her genetic composition. Elle got it all—flawless skin, cute hair, cooperating metabolism. She is the best example of how ordinary parents could have marvellous offspring.

I was surprised to discover there was something not so perfect about Elle. Having recently had dental bad news myself about my “weak mandibles,” I was willing to be sympathetic. 

Periodontal disease hits three out of four people; it is the new IT disease. How do you get it? It’s pretty much a roll of the dice. 

It is a sneaky disease, operating like a terrorist who lies dormant for years, before striking when the target’s defences are down. So you start off with a genetic susceptibility to weaker gums. 

Then if your immune system has been less than vigilant because you were battling off some other enemy, icky stuff can creep into tiny pockets that form around your teeth wherever the gumline is a teeny bit relaxed. 

Then, basically, bacteria have a party in your mouth without being detected by floss and bristles and Listerine. Untreated, this ongoing attack leads to bone loss and receding gums until people start describing you as being “long in the tooth.”

Elle woke up one morning with bleeding gums and, at first, thought she had turned into a vampire with amnesia because she had no memory of night crawling or of being afraid of garlic. 

She was thrown into major panic mode which required an emergency trip to the specialist, and a schedule of “deep-cleaning’’ appointments every three months and probing with sharp instruments beneath the gumline. “You have to this like church,’’ the kindly dentist told her.

The reason I am exposing Elle’s business is that I am serving the masses. Lots of people grew up with parents who went to the dentist only when tooth pain could not be numbed by brandy. So you might not have a proper appreciation of the need to visit the dentist twice a year, even if you think everything is all right in your mouth.

A good dentist will detect the early presence of “pockets” and recommend a periodontist who has the special tools to remove the invisible crud and protect you from bone loss. Be good and you will keep all your teeth till you die. Otherwise you will have a crumpled mouth that looks like a dried-up orange, and nobody like that ever gets invited to the best parties.

The best accessory in the world is a sparkling smile—and not the kind you have to take out at night and put in a glass on the bedside table.

Tell Elsa about your odd medical issues at [email protected]

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