"Don't put that in your mouth!"

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Our mouth is bacteria’s favourite dwelling place, because it provides the three key factors for them to grow most and grow best.

“Don’t put that in your mouth!”

Parents are no stranger to this familiar phrase, yelled ever too often when our children put their hands to their mouths after touching the grimy playground, or try to eat a twig they have picked up from the park.

But do you really think that the ground or the twig is actually dirtier than the mouth?

What many people fail to realise is that the mouth is actually the dirtiest part of the human body! Scientists at Harvard School of Dental Medicine have discovered more than 615 different types of bacteria that can live in the mouth, tongue and throat.

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Our mouth is bacteria’s favourite dwelling place, because it provides the three key factors for them to grow MOST and grow BEST:

  • Nutrients (from the foods that we consume daily)
  • Water (from our saliva), and
  • Warmth (our body temperature)

The bugs have a warm and humid environment filled with delicious nutrients from the different kinds of foods that we eat. Believe it or not, these bacteria in your mouth eat along with us!

So… if you don’t keep your teeth clean regularly, you are allowing these bacteria to grow unhindered in your mouth for that period of time that you’ve left your teeth uncleaned! Studies have shown that bacteria repopulate a tooth surface about 15 minutes after it is cleaned professionally by a dentist.

The harmful bacteria in the mouth causes two main dental disease: decay (cavities) and gum disease. For both conditions, pain only occurs when:

  • The nerve is infected during tooth decay, or
  • When the tooth is ready to fall out of the mouth

By then, the disease would have progressed for some time and is at a serious stage.

Gum diseases

Dental decay and gum disease progresses as bacteria slowly “eat away” at the gums and supporting bone. When the bone finally gets “eaten away” by bacteria to the point of being unable to support the tooth during chewing, the tooth would become shaky and cause pain when eating. Occasionally a pouch of bacteria forms under the gums, resulting in what is known as a “gum abscess”, which also causes pain.

Likewise, when the tooth finally gets “eaten away” to the point that it hits the centre or nerve of the tooth, i.e. when one will experience an excruciating toothache that normally gets worse at night.

Before you freak out, here’s the good news:

Not all bacteria in your mouth are bad. Thanks to the good bacteria in the mix, it slows the growth of the bad bacteria, so it takes a while before it can cause harm to the body. Together with good dental hygiene and practices, most dental problems can be prevented.

What's the best way to care for your teeth and your child's? Read on the next page!

How to care for your teeth

Care for your teeth includes:

  • Brushing at least twice a day
  • Flossing at least once a day, and
  • Regular three to six-monthly visits to your dentist.

When you brush, you are targeting the front, behind and biting surfaces of your teeth – that’s around 70% of the entire tooth surface. Flossing (or any cleaning aid that helps clean in between your teeth) takes care of the remaining 30%.

A large majority of the population either don’t know or can’t be bothered to floss, and that’s the main reason of dental disease. The areas where the bacteria is not removed on a regular basis are the areas where dental disease is prone to happen (mainly in between the teeth). Regular visits to the dentist help in the cleaning of the hard to reach areas in the mouth, but it is not a substitute for home care. As mentioned before, it only takes 15 minutes for the bacteria to repopulate a tooth surface after it has been cleaned. If one sees a dentist every six months and doesn’t keep his teeth clean at home, it is as though one is cleaning the teeth once in six months. (Think about not having a bath for six months!)

 Children's oral health

Parents should start your children on a dental care regime as early as newborn stage. Since babies have no teeth, a simple piece of gauze dipped in water to wipe their gums and tongue once a day will suffice. Gradually increase to twice a day. Once they start to sprout teeth, you may use a finger brush, or a small, soft toothbrush to gently brush the teeth without toothpaste. After the child has learnt how to spit, they may start using a fluoride toothpaste.

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Regular visits to the dentist from 4 years onwards will help the child get accustomed to a dental cleaning. Don’t wait until the child is in pain before bringing them to the dentist! Usually the treatment then would scar the child for life!

A dentist once said, “you only keep the teeth that you are able to clean”. How true! The teeth that you invest time and effort in to keep clean, will be the teeth that you would be able to keep in your mouth for the rest of your life. Don’t lose the only set of teeth that you have in this life! Wearing false teeth to eat reduces the quality of eating up to 75% depending on the number of teeth replaced (unless you consider the more costly option of implants, of course!).

This article was written by Dr Shaun Quek, Dental Surgeon, Unity Denticare (Thomson Plaza)

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