2008.05.21 Have your teeth been feeling hard enough lately?

By RICH FOLEY

I have a dentist appointment next Tuesday, so I guess it’s time to start worrying about what might be discovered this time. No matter what I do, the oral health care industry always seems to be one step ahead of me.

Just when I think I’m doing everything I can to protect my teeth, they introduce some new product or piece of research to let me know what an enemy I am to my teeth and make me think that, hey, maybe a monthly dental appointment isn’t that bad of an idea, after all.

I’ve always been pretty good about brushing and, much as I dislike the chore, even flossing on a regular basis. In the past few years, though, it has gotten quite a bit harder to pick out a toothbrush. Many of them are starting to resemble small torture devices. which isn’t my idea of fun. I even purchased a battery-operated brush, but it sounds more like a sandblaster than something I’d put in my mouth.

And what’s the deal with dental rinses? I used Crest’s blue rinse for several years and then they introduced a clear “Night” version. The ingredients list is identical for the two products, so what makes one different from the other except for color? And if I buy both, which are the same price, I’ll just buy the blue style half as much and replace it with the clear. Both types claim the exact same benefits, so why must I store two bottles?

 I do have a  little family history which can make going to the dentist somewhat of a fear-inducing experience. About 30 years ago, I had an aunt who actually died in the dentist chair. She was only 41 years old, but had a heart attack and died right there in the examination room. It had nothing to do with the dentist, of course, but when you take the apprehension that many people have of dentists in the first place and add that little experience to it, the temptation to just keep driving by his office can be hard to resist.

I had never told my current dentist that story, but a couple of years ago, he hired a new assistant and before cleaning my teeth, she asked me several questions as she updated my patient file. One of them pertained as to whether I had a fear of going to the dentist. Well, since you asked....                                                                                                      

After she recovered from the initial shock of the story, she said that since my aunt’s death had no real connection with her dentist, there wasn’t really a reason for it to scare me. Besides, she added, she was fully trained in CPR and the dentist was, of course, an M.D. If I were to have a similar problem, there were two trained professionals there to assist me. I was probably safer there than at home.

I had to admit, she made a lot of sense.  And since she is able to carry out her teeth-cleaning duties in an efficient manner without gagging me with the dreaded floss, I almost look forward to the appointments. Notice that I said almost. At least I enjoy seeing her. And with all the scary stories in the news relating to dental health, you have to see somebody.

I suppose it didn’t hurt the profession any when the research linking dental health to overall health started coming out. Various studies now make a connection between gum disease and heart disease. Gingivitis isn’t just a funny word anymore, but one that can cause you all sorts of trouble. That’s one reason I’m glad I don’t mind getting my teeth cleaned. And I may just have learned about another.

Last week, I read one of those syndicated ask-the-doctor columns and a questioner asked if it was true that dental problems can affect your heart. The doctor confirmed the connection and added that other problems included (don’t let the children read any farther) erectile dysfunction.

That’s the first time I’ve heard that little nugget of wisdom. If that doesn’t cause a rush of new dental patients, I don’t know what would. Now there’s three good reasons to take care of your teeth: So you won’t have to face the drill, so you won’t have to pay a big bill, and so you don’t end up needing a little blue pill. And, if you will excuse me, I think I hear my toothbrush calling me.

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