Dr. Claire Foley BDS NUI, Dunmanway Dental
By mid January, over 75 per cent of New Year’s resolutions are already broken. Most of us, on December 31, make a resolution to improve our health: lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking and eat healthy, but do we ever include our dental health in our resolution to improve our overall health? Well we should. The two are more closely linked than you might think.
Let’s start with the smoking cessation issue, as it’s one of the most popular and most difficult of the resolutions. We often get patients in complaining that their gums are bleeding more since they have stopped smoking, thinking this is a negative side-effect of giving up. The opposite, however is true. Yes, bleeding is a sign of unhealthy gums and that you need a cleaning with your dentist and you need to improve your own oral hygiene routine at home. However, the reason your gums weren’t bleeding before was due to reduced oxygen and blood flow in your gum tissues. The new bleeding is a sign of healthy, renewed blood flow to the area and is one of the first positive signs that patients notice upon quitting smoking. Oral cancer is also on the increase in Ireland with over 300 cases detected each year, and the main culprit again for this, is smoking. Each September there is a National Mouth Cancer Awareness Day to increase public knowledge that mouth cancer is an important global healthcare problem. It is important to realise your dentist screens for oral cancer at each of your visits and not just on this one day and once caught early, these cancers can be easily treated. There are a million and one reasons to quit smoking and prevention of oral cancer is definitely high on the list.
Our resolutions to improve our health and fitness usually stem from a desire to improve our self-image, to give ourselves back our confidence. How confident are you about your smile? A person’s smile can be a major factor in boosting or deflating your confidence. A less than attractive smile can really hold you back in life. It can even be the reason you may not be hired for a job. This can be due to you not being confident in your interview because you are paranoid about a discoloured tooth or due to your potential employer making assumptions about you and your work ethic based on your appearance. A person’s smile is one of the first things you will notice about someone you meet for the first time. I have seen patients reduced to tears when I have provided them with a new denture/ tooth whitening/ new white fillings etc. They usually can’t believe they left it so long to get their teeth ‘fixed’ and are like new people leaving the surgery.
Speaking of white fillings, one question we are asked time and time again is whether or not removing your silver fillings will improve your health. People ask this, as they have read that there is mercury in silver fillings and that this is poisonous and has been linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Multiple Sclerosis and a number of other health issue. Silver fillings have been used in dentistry for nearly 200 years. They do contain small amounts of mercury as a component. However, no scientific link has been proved that shows this mercury content causes any adverse effects at all. There is some mercury release from these fillings when we place and remove the fillings which can be reduced with high level suction, but when they are in your teeth, the amount released is negligible. I have one silver filling myself, which has been there for 15 years or more and I wouldn’t replace it unless it needed to be replaced for functional reasons. We are more than happy to replace amalgam fillings that might be in your smile line for you if you don’t like their appearance but I would never advocate to a patient that all their silver fillings need to be replaced for health reasons. There is simply no evidence for me to do this. You may have heard that some countries, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, have already banned amalgam and that Ireland will be phasing the material out as part of an EU agreement. This is not for individual health reasons though, but for environmental reasons to reduce waste amalgam in our water supplies and mercury vapour in our atmosphere.
While removing your silver fillings will not improve your systemic health, improving in your oral hygiene and oral health certainly will. Poor oral health has been scientifically linked to diabetes. Diabetics with poor oral health have difficulty controlling their blood glucose levels and diabetics who have poor sugar control also have worse gum disease. The two are unequivocally linked so that improving your oral hygiene will improve your diabetes. Poor oral health is also linked to heart disease, preterm births and low birth weights of newborns among other illnesses. Brushing twice daily, flossing at night and regular scale and polish with your dentist may do more for your overall health than swearing off chocolate for the month of January only to cave in on the second week! And remember that if you are a medical card holder or have PRSI cover your exam is free, so there is no reason to delay making an appointment and get the smile you have always wanted. Make 2015 the year you made your dental health resolution and kept it!