Oral health: keeping your mouth safe from disease
Dr. Olayiwola Obadeyi is a consultant dental surgeon. In this interview with Gbenga Osinaike gives an overview of the strategic position of the mouth and the need to use it appropriately
How important is the mouth to the general wellbeing of the body?
Health is a total package and it includes the wellbeing of the entire body among other things. But the mouth is important because it is the gateway to the body. What goes through the mouth to a large extent will determine the health of a person. That is why it is important to take care of the mouth and pay attention to anything that goes through it. The gateway to the body is crucial to the health of the body.
If I wash my teeth regularly and I don’t feel any need to see a dentist, must I still worry?
You don’t need to be in pain before you see a dentist because the germs that cause disease in the mouth could stay in the mouth for a long time before it starts manifesting. Many people who experience tooth decay and the likes must have harboured the bacteria that caused it for months before the bacteria will take its toll. So it is not about having pain but it is about prevention. What we tell people is that it is better they take preventive measures than wait until there is a problem.
But what in real sense cause problem to the mouth? Some people believe the saliva has potential to kill some germs as they enter through the mouth?
Essentially what we consume have potentials of causing havoc if they are not healthy. The saliva in the mouth is primarily for digestion. It does not fight disease. It is the immune system that fights diseases. When one’s immune system is not strong there is tendency for the body to be prone to diseases. But what we should note is that it is not good to allow sugar to stay too long in the mouth because that is what bacteria act on to cause problem for the mouth. Whenever you take anything like cake or things that contains lots of sugar, it is always good to rinse the mouth and rid it of the debris of these sugar. What happens is that bacteria work on sugar and produces organic acid which over time cause cavitation (hole in the teeth)
Some people actually use mouth wash to cleanse their mouth and also because they have mouth odor. How will you react to this?
I don’t subscribe to using mouth wash always. It is not good. It should be used once in a while and as a matter of fact if you can avoid it, do. What you need is a tooth paste with fluoride. And then brush your teeth morning and night. It is not good to over expose our mouth to chemicals in an attempt to maintain a fresh breath. There are some bacteria in the mouth that are useful to the health of the mouth. They are harmless bacteria. When you push all of them out you may be courting trouble for your mouth. It could lead to secondary infection.
There are cases of people with mouth odor who have done many things to address it yet they still experience it. What should they do?
The issue of mouth odor is a function of so many things. People have mouth odor because they probably eat late in the night by the time they wake up their mouth will smell foul even if they brushed their teeth the previous night before they went to bed. There are instances of people who retain particles in their teeth after eating. Over time the particles decay and cause odor to the mouth. We have also found out that pregnant women are prone to having mouth odor maybe due to their condition. If there is a deficiency in certain vitamins in the body it could lead to mouth odor. Children who are malnourished have tendency to also have mouth odor.
There are people who have done everything imaginable yet their mouths still smell. People like that have some internal problems that have to be addressed. It could be problem with the lungs or stomach ulcer. There are cases of people who have crowded teeth. In such case when the person eats meat for instance the particles are stuck between the teeth and when they are not removed it will decay and begin to smell. There are people who have thick saliva too. It the saliva is thick there will not be proper sanitation of the mouth because the saliva plays a great role in cleansing the mouth. That is why we encourage chewing of gum for such people because it stimulates secretion of saliva and helps oral health.
The safe thing to do is to maintain a good hygiene. Don’t eat late in the night and brush twice a day. It is not advisable to use tooth pick after eating it could cause damage to the gum. We advise that people use dental floss. It is gentle on the teeth and gum and it easily removes the debris between the teeth.
Is there a way the method of brushing could also enhance oral health?
That is a good observation. When many people brush their teeth they do it sideways. This is wrong. It should be done from up to down and then up. When you brush sideways nothing will be removed. The debris between the teeth will stick further. It is also not how hard you apply the brush on your teeth that makes it clean it is the method. So people must brush methodically. The kind of brush you use also matters. People should not use hard brushes except for those who smoke. But then I don’t think anybody who loves his life will indulge in smoking. We recommend soft brushes for children, medium for adults and hard for smokers. But as I said smoking is one of the greatest dis-services anybody can do to his/her body. It is not also proper to use brush on the tongue. It is better you use tongue cleanser. This is gentle on the tongue. Whenever you eat in between meals make sure you rinse your mouth.
There are people who have gap teeth and it is like a thing of pride. Does this have any implication?
In this part of the world it is seen as a thing of beauty. The space between the teeth in a person below the age of 20 should not be more than 2 millimetres. In advanced countries those who have gap teeth don’t keep it they close it up through surgery. There are implications if the teeth have too much space in between or if they are too compact. It is essentially not good for the beauty of the teeth.
Are there food one should avoid in-order to maintain good oral hygiene?
We usually advise people to stay away from the three S; if they want to maintain good oral health. They are smoking, spices and spirit. It has been discovered that spices are implicated in cancer. Excessive consumption of spices could lead to infections in the mouth, smoking is not good and consumption of spirit ie alcohol. All these will portend danger for the mouth. It is also not good to share brush with people even if the person is your spouse. People should also avoid any food or fruit that is acidic. Unripe fruits fall into this category.
What about oral sex. Is there any implication for the mouth?
That is a big one. I know a lot of people especially married couples engage in this. But the truth is that using your mouth on the sexual organ of your partner has implication for your health. The mouth is not supposed to be a sex organ in that sense. Those who engage in oral sex have tendency to have oral syphilis.
What about using the mouth to suck breast? Children suck the breast of their mothers? Can men also suck their wives’ beasts?
What I know is that sucking the breast in a marriage setting is only advisable if the couples are not waiting for a baby. Breast sucking is a form of contraception. It prevents pregnancy. When a woman’s breast is sucked, such experience sends a signal to the brain and prevents pregnancy.
So what final advice do you have concerning maintaining good oral hygiene?
We advise people not to wait until there is a problem until they take care of their mouth. The teeth and the mouth by extension are crucial to the entire health of the body. People should not abuse their mouth. The teeth should not be used to open bottles of drinks and oral sex should be avoided. Brush up down and then up not sideways. People should also be wary of the three S: Smoking, spirit and spices. They should use toothpaste with fluoride this will make the teeth resistant to decay We also encourage people to do scaling and polishing of their teeth if possible twice a year. This is a process whereby all the debris that could cause harm to the teeth are removed by the dentist.
Dr. Obadeyi is a consultant dentist. He could be reached on: 08023184050