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Dental Health & Fitness

Thoughts from the dentist chair

By: Verne Maree

Eight hours is a lo-o-o-ng time to spend in the dentist chair – but that’s about how long it took last month for me to get fitted with a brand new face-full of crowns. Boredom is quickly a factor, especially as you’re unable to contribute your own sparkling wit to the conversation. Boredom tinged with terror, that is. Any repartee is perforce down to the dentist and his assistant – “Pass the hammer” (yes, really), “What a lot of spit!” and (to me) “Don’t worry, you can breathe later” – while I focus my best on avoiding death by postnasal drip.

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Being in the rare and unusual position of having to shut up and let others speak without interruption, I learn all sorts of things that I’m delighted to be able to share with you here.

First, I heartily recommend that you take the happy gas if it’s offered, especially for a long or awkward session in the chair. More properly known as nitrous oxide, we called it laughing gas when I was a child, and that, says my dentist, is because children literally laugh while under its influence. This was my first encounter with the stuff, comfortably streamed into the nostrils through a little mask-like contraption. For me, it was like a lovely infusion of tequila, relaxing me and taking my mind off things – but without regrettable side effects such as dancing on tables and inappropriate snogging.

Secondly, if you’re having one or more teeth crowned and you need to visit the loo, don’t smile at anyone you may pass on your way through the waiting room. That’s because your teeth have to be ground down into frightful little toofy-pegs in preparation for their crowns, and you’ll look ghastly. (Unless, that is, you belong to a tribe that practises tooth-filing, such as the Waipara of intertropical Africa, the Zappo Zap of the Congo, or one of various Indonesian, Vietnamese and Sudanese tribes.)

It occurs to me that a row of pointy little teeth would be jolly easy to floss, though, and that brings me to lesson number three, this time from the dental hygienist: it’s essential to floss every day. I’ve heard it all before, of course, but removing mascara before bedtime is bad enough, and I’ll guiltily admit that the tedious business of flossing has all too often fallen by the wayside. This time, though, the message sinks in something to do with the suggestibility effect of the tequila, I mean nitrous oxide.

Not flossing has long been known to cause heart disease, and recent studies have now also shown that it’s associated with rheumatoid arthritis, as unlikely as that may sound. It has to do with the bacteria – particularly streptococcus gordonii – that tend to colonise our teeth. Apparently, they produce an enzyme that attacks proteins in the body, causing chronic inflammation that destroys bone and cartilage within the joints.

Interestingly, people can be differently prone to plaque buildup, my dental hygienist tells me while scaling and polishing my teeth: this involves the appalling job of scraping off every bit of plaque, while nagging me to be more conscientious in future. She never nags my husband, even though I know for a fact that I brush and floss at least twice as often as he does. It’s annoyingly unfair! Various factors are at play, she explains, including blood type and acidity levels.

One of her patients, despite brushing and flossing after every meal, had such an acidic mouth that even the biting surfaces of her teeth would be riddled with plaque just a few days after scaling and polishing. By seeking advice from a nutritionist and following a more alkaline diet, the patient managed to largely overcome the problem.

Another thing you can do to improve both oral and general health is to try oil pulling, the natural Ayurvedic way to disinfect the mouth. It’s simple: swill a tablespoon of coconut oil around your mouth for ten to 20 minutes a day and then spit it out. New scientific studies have shown remarkable results in preventing cavities, and my dentist says he’s noticed unusually quick healing of the wounds of several implant patients who’ve given it a go.

I’ve been oil pulling it for the past week, and it’s less difficult than it may sound – especially when you’re home alone and there’s no one to talk to. Isn’t it amazing what you can both learn and achieve by keeping your mouth shut!

You only get one set of teeth so make sure you take care of them.

This article first appeared in the January edition of Expat Living. Subscribe.