Friday, September 29, 2006

Save Yourself: Get to the dentist

Truth be told, I hate going to the dentist. It’s not that I hate my dentist. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a great guy. In fact, the prospect of having to replace him sends shudders up and down my spine because I’ve been his patient for the last 17 years.

He knows my mouth inside and out. And prior to seeing me, he worked on my dad, so know he’s warned me – on more occasions than I can remember – that since my dad’s mouth is rotten, of the need to be extra diligent at brushing my teeth.

Every time I visit my dentist I think we’re playing some version of the TV reality shows Survivor or The Weakest Link. Which tooth will be voted out of my mouth this time or get drilled down to nothing so it can be capped – or worse? Stay tuned.

My bad luck with the dentist started years ago, when I was about 10 years old. One of my two front teeth wouldn’t come down from the gums. So it was off to the oral surgeon, my dentist said, to figure out was going on. This was back in the early ‘70s, the day and age when the specialists in the trade, not your average, run-of-the-mill, dentist, used x-rays.

They revealed a cyst and within a few days, at a hospital, it was removed. Within a week after the surgery, I finally had my two front teeth.

But that’s not the end of it. I also suffered through about 10 years of braces. Since this was the dark ages of dentistry, my mouth appeared to be one, big metal track. The only thing missing were the trains.

If I still had those braces on today, I’d never be able to fly. In fact, it’s my guess that the airport’s metal detector would have to be replaced after sensing the amount of steel in my mouth.

So, as a result of all that childhood fun, I’ve been pretty diligent over the years – at least since graduating from college – about taking care of my teeth. I brush three or four times a day, rubber tip my gums, floss, etc.,etc.

My wife once observed that it takes about 30 minutes to get my teeth ready for bed.

During one visit to my dentist, I got so pissed off upon hearing the news about one more costly, in-depth procedure that needed to be done that I through up my hands up in frustration and said, “Gerry, I just want to know, how many kids have I put through college?”

“I don’t know. But you bought a few cars,” he replied.

I admired the come back.

My luck at the dentist is so bad that I had two root canals in three months earlier this year. The dentist who performs these root canals, not the guy I usually see, is just like my regular dentist: An all-round excellent practitioner of the trade with a sense of humor.

As he was about to start my second root canal, I said while these hook-ups were a blast, really, I couldn’t keep this up, financially, much longer. So I asked him, what’s the best way to avoid these meetings.

The good news, he reported, was that I was running out of teeth. Thank God for that, I replied.

He then went on to inform me that most root canals happen in molars, the teeth that are farthest back in the jaw. They’re prone to cavities and, if they’ve been drilled and filled, there’s something like a 90 percent chance that they’ll be victims of a root canal.

The material used to fill cavities is porous, allowing all sorts of gunk to seep in there, causing further decay and, eventually, a trip to the endodontist, a dentist who specializes in root canals. So you’ve got to brush the teeth that have been treated for cavities just as well, if not better, than the other teeth that haven’t been drilled if you want to avoid a root canal.

The good news about today’s dentistry is that it has changed, for the better, since my youth. The country’s water is pretty much fluoridated, which prevents a lot of dental problems. In addition, kids, if their parents take them to the dentist, receive care that’s advanced significantly over the last 30 years.

My dentist, in fact, tells me that my sons, ages 4 and 3, will very likely never have a cavity in their entire lives. I hope so. But, he warned me, they may take their teeth for granted so much that they’ll have gum surgery. At least that’s what the dental profession is seeing, so far.

On any given day that I have a dentist appointment, I would prefer to see my physician instead, for a check up on my prostate and testicles. Not that I enjoy it, but, somehow, it’s easier to drop my trousers for a few embarrassing, completely undignified minutes than it is to subject my teeth to the phrase, “Open wide. This won’t hurt a bit.”

The problem, however, is that there’s a link between dental health and overall fitness of one’s heart. This first became news to the general public about 10 years ago with the death of a somewhat famous, and rather successful, columnist, named Lewis Grizzard.

Lewis was truly one of the funniest people to ever write a newspaper column. He knew how to turn a phrase like a few others and was right up there with the likes of Dave Barry and Art Buchwald.

Unfortunately, like too many highly talented people, he passed away early. And his doctors were quoted as saying part of Lewis’ heart problems was his dental health. It was rotten.

If you’ve got bad teeth, there’s a good chance you’ll have a bad heart, the experts say. All that stuff that’s in your mouth – it was once reported there are more than 200 different kinds of bacteria living in anyone’s mouth – can affect your cardiovascular system.

That’s why you need to floss and see a dentist for regular check ups. It’s the first line of defense in maintaining overall good health.

About a week ago, it was reported in The Wall Street Journal, a number of insurance companies are covering more dental procedures because, they’ve concluded, they could prevent “a range of expensive medical problems” in the future.

The reason for the advanced coverage, The Journal reported, was due to “the result of an increasing number of studies linking oral health to general health and well being.”

There are now studies, The Journal said, that report links between bacteria around the root of a tooth and pre-term births. There’s also evidence that “the same bacteria in the mouth” can clog arteries, worsening heart disease and stroke risk.” Finally, The Journal said, diabetics find their blood-sugar levels difficult to control if there’s any inflammation in their body.

So if you’re interested in staying fit, work out, eat right, see your physician – and get yourself to the dentist. It just might keep you alive.

1 comment:

Darwin's Revenge said...

Interesting advice. But Doug, it would have been a great deal easier if you had just removed all your teeth in CT and we could have played some interesting games of Mah Jong. More importantly, the flouride in of our water is the first phase of an ingenious plot to slowly take over our minds utilizing this cerebral control drug. It was originally hatched as a communist conspiracy which has recently been sold to Al-Qaeda by the Ruskies. Al-Qaeda is actually Farsi for "Stupid American Dogs" and Bin Laden is Arabic for "Ugly Beard". So, I believe the final part of this scheme is to turn all us God fearing Americans into groveling canines with really ugly facial hair.

So, don't use flouride. It is better to have trench mouth than to look like an Afghan Hound!