Healthy smile, healthy lifestyle - why regular dental checkups are so important
With 1 in 4 people dreading a visit to the dentist, keeping on top of your oral health can be a challenge. But why are regular dental checkups so important and what can you do to make your dentist appointments a more relaxing (and less daunting) experience? We're not huge fans of going to the dentist - although we know how important it is to go regularly - so we thought we'd look into this a bit more..
Fear of the dentist could come about for many reasons, but is often linked to a bad experience as a child, or even as an adult. For some of us, the fear of pain or the sounds and smells that accompany a dental visit can be distressing - nobody likes the sound of the drill! Nowadays, fear of the dentist is seen as increasingly common and dentists work hard to be kind and understanding, doing everything they can to make your treatment stress free.
For most of us, an annual check-up is adequate to keep on top of our oral health - although anyone with a high risk of dental disease may need more frequent visits. Whether you're suffering from toothache, need a check-up or want your teeth cleaned for a more attractive smile, it's important to visit your dentist regularly. It's not uncommon for people in their 20s, 30s and even older to have avoided the dentist since childhood - but this is a bad idea!
There's no need to fear your dentist visits nowadays, as new technological advances have improved dentistry. Drills are quieter, and needle-phobics can relax safe in the knowledge that anaesthetic can be delivered quickly and painlessly using a computer-controlled dental wand; numbing gel is also available if you're particularly sensitive. There are even dentists out there who specialise in treating phobic patients.
Protect your health
Regular dental check-ups not only help to keep your smile looking beautiful - those pearly whites need some TLC - but research actually suggests that our oral health could be indicative of our overall health. Maintaining good oral health can prevent certain diseases - a link between gum disease and heart disease has been discovered. Pregnant women with gum disease have an increased risk of giving birth to a low birth weight baby.
Over 90% of systemic diseases (where many organs or your whole body is affected) could cause oral symptoms such as mouth ulcers and swollen gums. We're talking about diseases such as:
Poor oral health could also cause:
The physical and chemical processes of digestion begin in the mouth, so failure to look after your oral health could lead to the development of digestive disorders such as IBS
Facial and oral pain
Gingivitis (early stage gum disease) can be painful and could lead to tooth loss
Heart problems or problems with other organs
A mouth infection could affect your heart - for example, bacterial endocarditis can inflame the heart and heart valve
Face your fears - tips to tackle your dentist visit
Overcoming your dental fears can be a slow process, but these tips will help you, step-by-step:
- Make sure you find the right dentist for you. Get recommendations from friends and family or choose a dental surgery which specialises in treating nervous patients. Ideally your dentist should be close to home, as you're less likely to cancel an appointment if you don't have to travel far
- Organise a surgery visit. Let the dentist know you're an anxious patient and take the time to go in and meet them prior to your appointment
- Book an early morning appointment if possible, as this gives you less time to worry and stress
- Your initial appointment won't involve any drills or needles; it's just a check-up and perhaps a scale and polish, and it's your opportunity to get to know your dentist
- Take a friend along with you if you feel especially nervous - the dentist won't mind
- Build up your treatment gradually - start with a check-up, move onto a polish and build from there
Exceptionally nervous patients can ask their dentist to refer them to an NHS sedation clinic, where you will be given inhalation or intravenous sedation
Flash those pearly whites
Keeping on top of your oral health will minimise the treatment you need to have when you do visit the dentist (and save you money too!) and there are a few things to bear in mind when it comes to caring for your smile.
- You should brush your teeth at least twice a day, using a fluoride toothpaste - aim for two to three minutes' brushing time. Make sure you don't brush too hard as you could damage your teeth and gums
- Avoid cigarettes which can cause cancer and gum disease - not to mention bad breath!
- Never brush your teeth directly after eating as you can damage your enamel - wait at least an hour before brushing. If you need to freshen your breath, try some sugar-free gum
- Floss or use inter-dental brushes daily to remove plaque from between your teeth
- Eating a healthy diet loaded with vitamins A & C can help to prevent gum disease, whilst avoiding sugary foods can help reduce your risk of cavities (say no to a can of Coke or sugary vitamin water and yes to a refreshing glass of water!)
There's no need to fear the dentist, and regular check-ups are vital to ensure you stay healthy. You can find a dentist in your area by visiting the NHS Choices website and putting in your postcode, or searching on Google for practices which specialise in treating phobic patients.