Dental care in the long descent
I've got a dentist appointment tomorrow so my teeth are again on my mind.
Teeth, like eyes and ears, never, ever get better. They only get worse. I'm 61 and had the usual slapdash dental care as a child. We saw a dentist annually for cleanings or it might have been every six months. We certainly saw him for cavities.
Does anyone remember the Crest commercials: Look mom! No cavities! That used to be a big deal. Today, thanks to the miracle of sealants, it's commonplace for your kids to have no cavities despite their daily slapdash care. I have a filling in every single molar. My kids (three of them) have one filling between the three of them and it's a small one. Almost everyone I know my age has a mouthful of fillings.
My childhood dentist always hurt me. I have a sensitive mouth but no one wanted to hear it. As a result, I avoided dentists altogether as an adult until I couldn't anymore.
Sadly, and I deeply regret this, I did NOT step up my oral hygiene routine to compensate. I brushed faithfully at the end of the day or if I was going somewhere but that was it.
What I SHOULD have done and did not was rinse and brush after every single meal. Add to that a full routine of rinse, floss, rinse, and brush at the end of each day. Thus multiple cleanings during the day. This routine -- and it wouldn't have taken that much time -- would have saved me thousands of $$ in dental care over the last twenty-five years. My gums have receded very badly, causing other problems. I have routine dental pain. Eating something cold can be exquisitely painful. Even breathing cold air can hurt.
I do this cleaning routine NOW and it helps but it won't heal the damage. I'm also to the point where I need to use a prescription toothpaste. Yes, they make them and they are expensive.
So what should you do when dental care might be spotty at best or completely unavailable at worst?
Get your teeth repaired now. While you can. Any care that you need, but make sure it's medically needed and not for cosmetic reasons. Whitening your teeth doesn't strengthen the enamel. My sister got braces in her forties because she wanted a less crooked smile. She spent tens of thousands of dollars, her teeth fought her, and it didn't -- in the end -- change much other than making boat payments for her dentist. After she endured all kinds of fun, she met her now retired dentist (he had not done that work) and he told her that as you age, your teeth become less accepting of being forced into new positions. In other words, braces work better for teenagers than for adults. He also didn't care for whitening because of what it did to the enamel, if you weren't very careful.
So what should you do to prepare for the future?
Rinse and brush thoroughly after every meal. At the end of the day, rinse (to remove loose particles), floss (to scrape the teeth clean), rinse again (to remove anything the floss dislodged), and then brush (to apply fluoride to the newly cleaned surfaces. Flossing after you brush removes the newly applied fluoride.
Train your family members, difficult though the task is, to do the same. Get everyone sealants. They've saved my kids' teeth. The fewer fillings you have going into adulthood, the easier it will be to maintain what you've got.
Other things to do to save your teeth.
Do NOT smoke!!! It's terrible for your mouth in general.
No colas or sugary sodas in general. A fun project is putting a few nails in a glass of Coke. The Coke will dissolve the nails a lot faster than water will. Think about that swishing around in your mouth over and over. Sugar really is bad for your teeth so drink plain water.
If you're worried about stains, go easy on the tea and coffee.
DO NOT CHEW ICE!!!! Ever! You'll crack your teeth.
Avoid the kind of activity that gets you punched in the face. If you participate in that sort of activity, wear a mouth guard.
Dental care is all based on prevention, because once damage sets in, it's a downhill slide down the razor blade of life, picking up speed and getting worse.