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Imagine the following scene; a terrible throbbing pain in one of your molars that keeps you awake all night, while you grapple for over the counter medications and painkillers to quell the onslaught of agony that is building up very minute. Every remedy is sought for, and after using cloves, cold compresses, or any other tip from the “old wives tales encyclopedia”, you finally concede to the fact that you have to see a dentist. After the visit, you are informed that had you come earlier, you may have been spared all that agony and also have got to keep your tooth which will now have to be extracted. That’s when you realise – if only you had kept to the routine visits with the dentist, you wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. 

Ask dentists how they feel about patients maintaining their oral health, and they will probably tell you that there is a huge gap in the occurrence of visits needed to the dentist to prevent tooth decay, gum disease and other issues resulting in negligence towards ones dental needs. 

The reasons seem to be manifold, and especially in our part of the world where many people are not really proactive when it comes to health issues in general, regular visits to the dentist do not take the priority that is needed. 

A lack of awareness, fear of dental work, a bad experience with a past dental procedure or just neglecting ones teeth and gums in general can put a person in harms way, and can in fact compromise one’s health. 

Dr Abrar ul Hasnain Syed is a dental surgeon and implantologist, and with many years of experience under his belt, he says that the mouth is a gateway to diseases, and poor dental health can lead to serious health conditions. 

“Problems with teeth and gum disease can be a cause of cardiac issues and pre-term birth.” says Dr Abrar. “Gum diseases in a moderate or severe stage can put a person at a higher risk for heart diseases, as opposed to someone with healthy gums.”

Explaining his statement, he said: “Bacteria and other germs that are in the mouth can find their way from the mouth to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. In fact, when these bacteria reach the heart they can cause inflammation. Deposits can also cause arteries and vessels to become clogged, which can result in cardiac issues.”

So, as the world has started to take notice of the importance in keeping teeth and gums healthy, what is the basic care and routine needed for an individual?

As Dr Abrar tells us, the instant that a tooth appears, that’s when you need to start taking care of them. 

“When your baby has their first tooth, that’s when dental care needs to start. The baby needs to be introduced to the concept of a good dental routine through the introduction of brushing. It is not uncommon to see baby bottle cavities in infants, which are caused by a baby going to sleep with a bottle of milk or drinking sweetened drinks,” he said.

It is imperative to bring up children with a good sense of brushing and dental hygiene because that’s what will maintain the necessary habits for looking after their teeth towards adulthood, and will remain a priority for them throughout their lives. 

Sweets, chocolates, fizzy drinks, and sticky food are the main culprits in causing tooth decay, and parents need to be mindful of the fact that allowing their children to eat or drink such things may cause their dental health to suffer. In fact, if a child or an adult has eaten any of these food items they need to brush within 20 minutes to avoid the process of tooth decay or gum disease from starting. 

So, what is the proper way to look after ones teeth and why do we seem to lag behind in maintaining proper oral health.  Keeping the teeth and gums free from sticky and sweet food is important, but so is the way we brush our teeth and how often we do so. While genetics does play a big role on whether you will inherit healthy teeth and gums, there are routines we can adapt to turn the odds in our favour. 

“It’s important to brush our teeth twice a day, once in the morning and again just before going to bed, to keep tooth decay and gum disease at bay. A toothbrush needs to be replaced every three months and people need to make sure they are not brushing their teeth too vigorously. Such cases result in causing cavities in the teeth and sore gums by abrasion. It’s also very important to visit your dentist every six months so that minor issues can be dealt with in time. Flossing should be incorporated into one’s daily dental cleaning techniques to remove food that may get stuck in between teeth and where a toothbrush cannot reach,” said Dr Abrar. 

Many people, not just in Pakistan but globally too, may suffer from a form of dental phobia. The mere sight of a dentist’s office, the dentist’s chair and the whirring sound of the drill may cause many to experience a significant amount of anxiety. If that anxiety remains unchecked and is allowed to grow, it can cause serious consequences where patients only visit the dentist when they are in severe pain and as a last resort. Dr Abrar explained how he treats such patients at his clinic. 

“Fear of the dentist is real and quite common. I remember being terrified of having dental work done when I was a child and I made it a point to deal very specifically with every child that visits my office. It is absolutely necessary to develop a bond of trust and friendliness with children so that they may not suffer from any traumatic incidents that could impact them psychologically. The same goes for adults. I counsel patients and develop confidence that we are here to give them a relatively pain free experience,” he said.

Another  cause for concern, and specifically relating to our region, is the alarming incidence of eating paan, gutka and Areca Nut (chaalia) and its connection to oral cancer. Studies have shown that chewing non-smoking tobacco flakes that are sometimes added to paan leaves can also lead to cancer, and the various popular paan masalas can also cause health concerns. Not only does using paan and ghutka result in concerning health matters, they also stain the teeth and surroundings too, where regular consumers tend to spit them out. 

Schools and parents play a vital role in the habit forming and mindset of any individual. Rather than worrying about fixing adults, wouldn’t it be better to ensure the proper upbringing and a mindful approach by making children sensitive to what’s good and bad health wise?

The media also needs to focus upon the various aspects of our health that embodies the fact, “prevention is better than cure”. Upon countless visits to a health professional, and when suffering from chronic illnesses, it is then that a person may learn that their condition was actually something that could have been controlled through proper diet, exercise and lifestyle changes. Rather than spending huge amounts of money treating  progressed illnesses, it is about time that we invested our money, time and energy on those simple changes that will allow us to lead a healthy and active life by making positive choices and  assertiveness. 

By: Shabnam Riaz


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