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Dr Duncan

Something to get your teeth into

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If you had a toothache prior to the 20th century, any remedy would have involved a great deal of pain and usually little improvement! Just to give you some feeling for the changes of the last 100 years, here’s a brief time-line of the history of dentistry according to Dr D:

Neolithic era: evidence of the use of dental drills found in graves in Pakistan - a promising start that was not really to be improved on for another  ... 5,000 years!

5,000 years ago: earliest writings on toothache by Sumerians: “prayer power” to get rid of tooth worms and demons! Not much progress there.
Also at this time the Chinese were experimenting with arsenic for toothache which probably killed the pain and the patient. Meanwhile the Greeks came up with the brilliant idea that tooth decay was caused by an imbalance of their famous four humours and advocated “bleeding” which stayed in vogue until the early years of the 20th century!

2600 BCE First dentists appear in Egypt about the time the pyramids were built.

1000 to 400 BCE the Etruscans created the first dental bridges with natural teeth.

The Romans were “inventive” coming up with gold crowns, securing loose teeth, making false teeth with wood ivory or bone, and suggesting that a “treatment” for toothache was to gargle with urine: thankfully, that didn’t catch on!

7th century: the Chinese were now filling cavities with a mixture of silver, tin and mercury, something that the west was to pick up 1,000 years later.

The Middle Ages: you didn’t want to get toothache in this era because the treatments were not very healthy: laxatives, blistering, bleeding, cauterizing with red-hot iron or even a clove of garlic in the ear!

In the later centuries things started to progress and books began to appear on dentistry thus creating a more formal discipline. But even in the UK in the 19th century anyone could be a dentist without any formal training. 
But probably the big change in dentistry was the introduction of anaesthesia in the late 19th and early 20th century which allowed for painless treatment and extractions. In a short period of time, X-rays and fluoride were discovered and modern dentistry began to evolve. Electrically driven dental drills appeared in 1870 and were eventually superseded by the high speed drills in the 1950s much to the delight of the baby boomers!

george-washington

George Washington’s teeth (www.old-picture.com)

Nowadays we often take our brilliant modern day dental care for granted - but we shouldn’t! A major factor in improved dental health has been the introduction of fluoride - a subject that is still debated (and like all good things of science should continue to be open to sensible debate from time to time) and which has dramatically reduced the incidence of dental caries and toothache. But oral hygiene isn’t just about not having holes in your teeth, poor oral hygiene can affect your overall health.

Our mouths are teeming with bacteria; in fact we humans have more bacterial cells in our bodies that we have human cells - it’s just that they’re are lot smaller - and many of these bacteria think that the mouth is a great place to live. Most of them are “friendly” guys and work with us to maintain our normal health, but if that health “balance” is broken then these bacteria can invade the bloodstream and end up in places where they do much more harm than good. Poor oral and dental hygiene has been linked to the following conditions:

Endocarditis: it has been long known that people with heart valve disease caused by Rheumatic fever can develop nodules of infective tissue on their already damaged valves containing bacteria that have originated in the mouth.

Coronary Artery Disease: this has been linked to gum disease associated with poor oral hygiene.

And oral health is also affected by your general health too: people who suffer from osteoporosis may also find that their teeth get looser: diabetics need to be especially careful with dental hygiene as they are more prone to infection with all its consequences: patients who have radiotherapy for head and neck cancers often lose the ability to produce saliva leading to dry mouth syndrome and dental disease: those with HIV/AIDS may suffer from painful oral lesions.

Having a healthy mouth often means having a healthy body, so it’s important that we care for it properly. Brush your teeth after each meal* to remove all trapped food debris and replace your brush every 3 to 4 months.  Eat healthy food, floss daily and make sure you have regular dental check-ups. And as for the “electric v manual” method of cleaning: I think that the record shows that the electrical variety has the edge especially for those with reduced hand control.

*if you have a citrus drink wait for about 30 minutes before brushing your teeth as the acid weakens the enamel and brushing too soon after drinking acid drinks can damage the enamel.

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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