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Put your money where the mouth is

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First visit to the dentist should take place within 6 months of eruption of the first primary tooth (Mieke Campbell - Unsplash)

By: Dr Cheah Chia Wei

World Oral Health Day is celebrated on 20th March every year. This year’s celebration centered around the theme “A happy mouth is a happy body” prioritizing oral health which leads to better health overall. On the other hand, the European Federation of Periodontology (EFP), published a white paper with the title “Time to put the money where the mouth is: addressing inequalities in oral health”, emphasizing the importance of investing in preventive interventions since these have shown positive return on investment for home-based preventive care and earlier diagnosis and management of oral conditions. Caries and periodontitis are two highly prevalent diseases that have a disproportionate impact on populations with lower socioeconomic status.

Dr Cheah Chia Wei

It must be drilled into the people’s minds that preventive measures will save cost. These costs encompass direct costs related to health resource use, indirect costs related to productivity loss and sometimes intangible costs (costs related to pain and suffering). According to a study done by an American insurance company, on a population aged 20-79 years old, a person will spend US 51,000 to US 79,000 throughout his/her lifetime. This figure does not include complex or elective dental treatment such as implants and orthodontics.

Prevention starts from the moment a child is born. In a toothless infant, a simple task such as wiping the oral cavity (cheek, tongue, palate and gum pads) with a damp handkerchief is the basic oral hygiene routine one should provide for a child.

So, when is the best time to bring a child for his/her first dental visit?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend that the child’s first visit to the dentist should take place within 6 months of eruption of the first primary tooth and no later than at the age of 12 months.

When the child starts to have teeth erupting in the oral cavity, he/she should be brought to dentist for regular check-up and prophylactic scaling. When dental visit is introduced early in life, this will reduce dental anxiety and pave a good start for lifelong maintenance of good oral health. Unfortunately, the majority of a child’s 1st dental visit were normally associated with issues such as toothache or fall which affect the teeth and lips. Thus, this 1st impression of the dentist leaves a negative impact and subsequent dental fear which affects the rest of a child’s life.

Maintaining a good set of baby teeth (scientifically termed as deciduous teeth) is crucial to maintaining the space for the subsequent replacement of adult teeth (permanent teeth) according to the eruption age and into the correct position. This will reduce the risk of teeth overlapping or impacted (unable to erupt and embedded in the jaw bone) which requires the need for braces treatment to correct this problem. Teeth that overlap are not easy to keep clean with increased risk of becoming carious and also to develop gum diseases. Baby teeth that are maintained properly is also important for social interaction, and learning of speech. Studies have shown that early childhood caries lead to psychosocial, functional, and growing problems among children.

Besides regular visits to the dentist, investing in properly designed toothbrushes, devices to clean in between the teeth and fluoridated toothpaste are the cheapest measures to help with daily maintenance of oral hygiene.

A healthy lifestyle plays another crucial role in the prevention of oral and dental issues. Examples of healthy lifestyles include regular exercise, sufficient rest and relaxation, eating of balanced whole food at regular intervals and avoid cigarette smoking/vaping. Violation in any one of these will eventually jeopardize one’s general and oral health.

So, let’s start investing into preventive measures in our oral and dental for better overall health!

The author is a Senior lecturer and consultant periodontist at the Department of Restorative Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at chiawei@um.edu.my

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