94 per cent of individuals suffer from gum diseases and 80 per cent have dental caries

A few days ago, I met someone whose smile left me wondering about his even white teeth, as they resembled dentures. But since the man I met was aged less than 30, it was unlikely he was wearing dentures, unless he had been seriously injured in an accident.

The man reminded me of what a professor of dentistry M.B. Aswath Narayanan told me some time ago — that crooked and malformed teeth are one of the three common problems a dentist encounters in his practice. The other two, are cavities and caries.

Dental caries or tooth decay and plaque formation can be easily rectified with timely care, Dr. Ashwath Narayanan said. According to him, 94 per cent of individuals suffer from gum diseases and 80 per cent have dental caries. “But simple methods like teeth cleaning, removing decayed teeth and filling in cavities will prevent further damage,” he said.

If you have been to a dentist, he will tell you to return every six months for a thorough cleaning of your teeth. “There is plaque and it needs periodic cleaning,” he might tell you, after filling in your cavity. The kind of abuse that teeth withstand should be enough warning. But unless the problem is insurmountable, and a decaying tooth causes trouble, most people keep away. The inability to comprehend what the doctor is doing to one’s teeth with instruments that look somewhat menacing is, for many, enough reason to avoid the dentist.

No wonder then that doctors say that at some point in our lives, almost all of us suffer from gum diseases and dental caries. And that explains why dentists say it is important to have a biannual appointment with them.

A study by a toothpaste-manufacturer last year found that even adults who can afford to buy expensive toothpaste do not care much for oral hygiene. Last April, at the Indian Dental Association’s two-day exhibition, visitors got a glimpse into what goes on in the mouth and the digestive tract, which sums up how our teeth are affected. Sometimes it is not lack of knowledge, but lack of access that is the barrier.

The Madras Dental College’s camp for children in Corporation-run schools in the city in 2009 found that 85 per cent of children had some form of abnormality in their teeth. A survey in rural Tamil Nadu, published as a research paper in the Indian Journal of Dental Research in 2008, called for a primary tooth care system in rural India. A survey under the National Rural Health Mission brought similar results.

The good news is that the government has proposed the appointment of dentists in some primary health care centres. “When that happens, we will be the trendsetters in the country in dental healthcare,” Dr. Narayanan said.