Canadian Dental Checkup: How do Your Teeth Compare?
Here’s a reason to smile: According to the results of the Oral Health Component of the Canadian Health Measures Survey, released in 2010, Canadians aren’t doing too badly when it comes to the health of their teeth: Three out of four see a dental professional each year, and two out of three people with natural teeth don’t need dental treatment. But some stats are a little more disturbing.
How often should people see a dentist?
One in five adults with natural teeth have, or have had, a moderate or severe problem with their gums; more than half of kids and teens have cavities; and 17 percent of Canadians reported not visiting a dentist in the past year because of the cost.
We discussed the survey-and ways to improve oral health-with Dr. Chris Lee, director of the emergency recall clinic at Dalhousie University’s Dentistry Faculty Practice.
The frequency depends on how healthy your teeth and gums are. “If someone doesn’t get a lot of cavities or have a lot of gum disease, once a year is good. If someone has no teeth, they [should see a dentist] once a year, because dentists check for things like oral cancer,” says Dr. Lee. “For people who have gum disease, as often as every three months.”
Your dentist may recommend frequent visits if you’re prone to tooth decay or if you’re a smoker.
Ninety-six percent of adults have cavities. How can we prevent them?
Bacteria in your mouth turn food into enamel-eroding acid, which can cause cavities. Clean your teeth after eating or, if that’s not practical, limit your exposure to the acid. “It’s not the amount of sugar; it’s the number of times you have it…If you’re constantly snacking, you have that acid attack prolonged all day,” explains Dr. Lee. “Another thing that causes cavities is anything sticky, like gummy bears, which stick for a long time.”
Dry mouth, a side effect of antidepressants and certain other medications, increases the risk of tooth decay, since there’s less saliva to wash away germs. Dr. Lee recommends drinking water throughout the day and using a higher-fluoride toothpaste or fluoride rinse to kill bacteria and strengthen tooth enamel.
Cavities are a big problem among kids. What should parents know?
Besides reminding kids of proper brushing and flossing techniques, Dr. Lee recommends cutting back on pop and sports drinks. “One of the worst things that’s happened recently for our youth is the advent of high-energy drinks, which have an awful lot of sugar,” he says, noting that these beverages are also very acidic. “They’re really, really bad for teeth… Kids having Red Bull or Gatorade two or three times a day is a dangerous habit for cavities.”
A third of Canadian adults have gingivitis (gum inflammation that causes redness, swelling and bleeding). What can we do?
The number one remedy is flossing, which is the only way to remove the gingivitis-causing germs between teeth, says Dr. Lee. Regular checkups are also essential. Tartar, the hardened plaque along your gum line, is porous like coral; bacteria hides there and causes gingivitis. If it worsens, you may experience irreversible bone loss (periodontitis).
Fight back with proper oral care. “Use a soft toothbrush…not hammering up and down or scrubbing, but essentially going in circles. Flossing is not just an up-and-down motion; you have to hug the tooth in a C-shape,” says Dr. Lee. “Ask the experts to sit there with a toothbrush, floss and a mirror and show you.”
Low income is a barrier to dental care. Where can low-income Canadians seek assistance?
“Access to dental care for people who can’t afford it is a major issue,” says Dr. Lee, who’s worked in Vancouver, Ontario and Nova Scotia and seen this problem in every location.
Depending on the province, people who have a low income or are on social assistance may have access to government-funded emergency coverage. You can also inquire about dental care at community clinics, and dental schools across Canada offer comprehensive dentistry for half the usual cost.