An important health issue
THOUGH oral health is an important aspect of overall wellbeing, many people do not know all they need to know about taking care of their teeth and gums.
“You may be good at brushing your teeth, but many people don’t know that they should also brush their gums. If you don’t brush your gums, bacteria will enter your gums, causing swelling and even bleeding,” says Dr Dhanya Panicker, resident dental officer at Mahkota Medical Centre.
One of the most common complaints that Dr Panicker sees and treats in her clinic at the hospital is bleeding gums in adult patients.
Most of the time, this condition is caused by inadequate oral hygiene leading to an accumulation of bacteria or build- up of tartar ( a form of hardened dental plaque).
Tartar build- up can cause the gums to become irritated or swollen and in extreme cases lead to loss of connective tissue fibres, causing teeth to become loose.
Some people are genetically susceptible to gum disease, which means that the disease is not solely based on poor hygiene.
Dr Panicker explains that methods of treating bleeding gums depend on the severity of each case.
Most patients will be given thorough dental scaling and cleaning to remove the worst of the tartar.
In some cases, patients require medication to stop the bleeding or reduce swelling.
“We also give them detailed oral hygiene instructions on brushing and cleaning techniques and give them mouthwash and toothpaste to aid their dental care practices,” she adds.
With proper oral hygiene, the condition generally improves within a few months. Those with hereditary gum disease will most likely need routine follow- ups with a gum specialist to control the situation.
In children, the most common complaint is rampant decay of the teeth, often caused by overconsumption of sugar combined with inadequate oral hygiene.
“Some parents allow their children to go to bed without brushing their teeth or to fall asleep with food or milk residue still in their mouth. Over time, this causes the teeth to decay, which can be painful and may also affect their overall health,” says Dr Panicker.
She advises parents to ensure children have their teeth brushed before bedtime or, in very young children and toddlers, to rinse out the mouth with warm water to ensure there is no food or milk residue left overnight.
One of the major reasons Malaysians face these dental conditions is due to a lack of awareness of proper oral hygiene measures and a phobia of dentists.
Furthermore, irregular visits to the dentist mean that when they do go in for a procedure, it is often complicated and painful, compounding their fear of dentists and contributing to a vicious cycle.
Ideally, you should visit your dentist every six months to a year for cleaning and scaling and an overall check of your oral health.
“Regular visits mean that you keep your teeth and gums clean and can immediately take care of any small problems that arise – such as filling in a cavity – before they become big problems that cause pain and trouble,” says Dr Panicker.
Dr Panicker also sees patients who require dentures; these are generally people in their 50s and above.
She explains that many people who do not take care of their gum health in their younger years find that their gums are not strong enough to grip their teeth as they get older, leading them to require dentures.
Though the oral health of Malaysians has improved over the last 20 years, there is still a long way to go.
“It seems that though most people know what they should be doing to take care of their oral hygiene, many just don’t do it. People tend not to think it’s important until a problem arises,” says Dr Panicker.
“Your oral health is as important as any other health matter,” she says.
She encourages parents to learn the proper methods of brushing and cleaning teeth and gums and to lead by example to teach their children to take care of their oral health.
For more information, contact Mahkota Medical Centre.