Let the smile return

DENTAL DISEASE has plagued mankind for centuries. The ancient Sumerian civilisation was the earliest to record the fact. It was widely believed that a worm in the tooth was the cause of dental decay. Yet another belief was that a demon was responsible. Many thought that a toothache was the result of divine displeasure and the result of the wrath of God.

The progress of Medicine and Dentistry are closely linked. Very often, progress was hampered by witchcraft, wizardry and superstition.

From early days, oral health has come to be widely recognised as vital to general health and well-being.

The mouth and its muscles are the only means of communication and expression. The oral cavity, with its complex structures, is the sentinel of the body, guarding it against disease.

By the same token, any infections in the mouth can affect general health.

Dentistry, which deals with the teeth and oral tissues, has also taken giant leaps. From the crude and often painful techniques of yesteryear, this branch of medicine now combines science and technology with art.

Let us see how and why this has happened.

Most of dentistry was originally need-based. A toothache was treated to relieve pain and mostly the treatment was extraction. Infections of the mouth were also treated. That was it.

The importance of preserving teeth came to be realised with increased life expectancy. Suddenly the quality of life seemed more important than life itself. Science started looking at nature differently and scientists realised that in repairing or reconstructing the human body, the ideal was as close to the natural as possible. Lessons were learnt and the words harmony and aesthetics were woven into the fabric of dental science.

From this point on, it was obvious that though we were dealing with human problems, the oral cavity being so vital to general health and social interaction, it had to be treated holistically taking the entire being into consideration.

The profession has understood this and today modern dentistry is best practiced and executed as a multidisciplinary approach. It is not surprising then that modern dentistry today has six basic specialities and four or more emerging specialties.

Dentistry is the health science that encompasses the study and application of measures designed to prevent deterioration of the oral structure and the use of clinical procedure to improve the oral health of those treated.

Let the smile return

The following is a word guide to specialities commonly addressed in dentistry:

Operative dentistry is the art and science that relates to the restoration of proper tooth form and function and to maintain the teeth in harmonious relationship with the adjacent hard and soft tissue.

Oral & Maxillo facial surgery, as the name suggests, is the surgical speciality that identifies with dentistry in and around the mouth.

Prosthodontics deals with restoration of damaged or replacement of missing teeth.

Endodontics deals with removing bacteria and infected pulp from the pulp chamber and root canals and filling the canal with inert material to prevent further complications and unnecessary extraction.

Paediatrics deals with the preventive care and treatment for children `s teeth.

Cosmetic dentistry is a popular way of creating pleasing smiles by blending dental science with artistry.

Implantology deals with permanently anchoring teeth in the bone.

Oral pathology addresses the diseases of the mouth.

Orthodontics is that branch of dentistry used to correct mal-aligned or crooked teeth with appliances, removable or fixed.

Periodontology deals with the study and treatment of gums in order to maintain their health.

Admittedly, there is a wealth of information out there, for anyone who cares to read, in health magazines, books and the World Wide Web. At the same time, the average person just does not have the time to look it up in today's no-time-to-stand-and-stare world.

The purpose of this article is to be able to provide answers to questions that are raised about teeth and tooth related matters which one experiences from time to time.

The following are a few FAQs:

At what age should we go to the dentist for the first time?

One year. (For basic examination and parental counselling)

Why should one brush regularly?

We have to brush regularly to avoid accumulation of food particles and tartar deposits in the teeth.

Why are teeth yellow?

Habits, lifestyle and age can change the colour of teeth over a period of time.

I have bad breath. What should I do?

Bad oral hygiene, infections in the mouth and bad habits or stomach problems could cause for bad breath. Detecting the correct reason and eliminating the cause will prevent bad breath.

Who requires orthodontic treatment?

Anyone with mal-aligned or irregular teeth, buck teeth, crowded teeth, overlapping teeth, rabbit teeth or ones with gaps in between may require orthodontic treatment.

What is gum disease?

Periodontal (gum) disease is an inflammation or infection of the gum and bone that support the teeth. It's caused by the bacteria in plaque (the sticky, nearly colourless film that constantly forms on your teeth).

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay describes the condition wherein the tooth, under a variety of harsh conditions, breaks down leading to the formation of a cavity.

What are the causes of tooth decay?

Poor oral hygiene, unregulated diet of sweet food and drinks, bad or worn out dental fillings.

What is plaque?

Plaque is a thin, nearly invisible film formed by bacteria colonising your mouth. It sticks firmly to the whole tooth surface, causing tooth decay, tooth ache and may also result in tooth loss.