You don’t have to be toothless when you grow old. It’s time to listen to your dentist!

The absence of teeth can affect our lives in myriad ways – from eating habits to the way we talk.

It is a common belief that as we grow older we will slowly lose all our teeth. Our childhoods are peppered with fairy tales featuring older people who are toothless or at least lack a few molars! In fact, research reveals that dreams about tooth falling out are one of the most common and universal dreams people of all cultures have! Now isn’t that interesting? To debunk this we talked to Associate Professor Colonel Dr Basuri Faki (R), Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, SEGi University, Malaysia.

You will find that according to Dr Basuri, reality is actually quite different. Here’s what you need to know to age gracefully with all your enamels intact!

Why do we lose our teeth?

We lose our teeth because of two common dental diseases — dental decay or caries (cavities) and gum problems or periodontitis.

Tooth decay refers to the destruction of the hard outer layer of the tooth, the enamel. This can happen due to a variety of reasons of which plaque is the most common. Plaque is the sticky film that forms on the teeth and it is nothing but a bacteria. When the teeth and the surrounding areas are not cleaned properly after food, the bacteria start digesting the sugar left over from the food and converts it into acids. These acids demineralise the enamel of the teeth forming tiny holes, which leads to tooth decay.

Periodontitis, on the other hand, is the inflammation of the gums and the other structures inside our mouth, which are also caused by bacteria. Often called ‘gum disease’, Periodontitis is very common and can ultimately lead to serious damage to teeth. According to a latest survey, 9 out of 10 adults in Malaysia suffer from dental caries and periodontitis.

Dr Basuri says: “Sugar is the number one enemy of teeth and you should clean your mouth immediately after eating”.

Preventing dental issues

Therefore, to prevent dental issues, one has to simply prevent tooth decay and gum diseases.

Preventing tooth decay: Poor oral hygiene habits, consumption of a poor diet high in carbohydrates and sugar or skipping routine dental cleaning are the foremost reasons for tooth decay. If a cavity goes unnoticed and untreated, the tooth decay will spread and may eventually require extraction. By establishing and keeping up good daily oral hygiene, nourishing your smile with a balanced diet, and seeing your dentist regularly for a professional cleaning and cavity detection, you can help prevent tooth decay.

Preventing gum disease: If oral plaque isn’t cleared away daily, it can irritate the gums. Eventually, the plaque hardens to tartar, a toxic substance. The irritation can lead to an infection in the gum pockets. Unless your dentist intervenes, gum disease will deteriorate the underlying bone, causing loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.

Tips to keep your smile intact

As mentioned above, you can pick up some good daily habits to ensure you hold your bright cheerful smile in old age.

According to Dr Basuri, teeth care begins from your first tooth. When a child is too young to brush, the mother needs to rub the teeth with cotton at least once every day. An issue to take note of is again sugary food. Dr Basuri strongly recommends parents to limit the amount of sugar exposure for their children. Diet is the foremost thing deciding whether you will be able to retain your teeth in old age or not.

Following a dental regimen is crucial, the seeds of which have to be sown from childhood itself. Ideally, people should brush their teeth after every meal, however, it is not quite feasible. Dr Basuri emphasises on brushing at least twice a day.

“Most people don’t know how to brush properly. No one technique is completely correct. It is best to combine two-three techniques to keep the teeth healthy. People should follow the technique they feel most comfortable with. Be gentle with the teeth and not scrub vigorously. Vigorous scrubbing can remove the enamel of the teeth,” says Dr Basuri.

Dr Basuri believes that changing one’s habits slowly can work wonders with respect to having healthy teeth. With the right combination of awareness and good habits, one can ensure to have healthy teeth regardless of age.

Preventing dental problems from happening is the key, not fixing the dental problems when they occur. It is as the old saying goes — a stitch in time, saves nine.

If you are interested in being a dentist or dental surgeon yourself, consider the Bachelor of Dental Surgery at SEGi University. It has some of the best education facilities in the country, affordable fees and a strong academic team with experience.

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