Studies repeatedly find that even though people around the world are aware of the importance of oral health, they avoid going to dentists – and there’s no reason to suspect that Thailand is any different. "In every country there is a section of the population who will put a priority on their health, and will have check-ups, while some people don’t. It’s the same everywhere," says Dr Kiertichai Pongpairoj.
Dentists say that an integral part of your oral health routine should include, wherever possible, checkups on average every six months – more frequently if teeth are in bad shape, or just once a year if good oral health is maintained.
Daily care is vital
According to Dr Kiertchai, the main factor in oral health is how you treat your teeth on a daily basis at home. "Checkups are not as important as your oral hygiene on a daily basis. It’s your lifetime’s homework. They’re your teeth – it’s your job to take care of them."
This means that a normal checkup with most dentists will usually involve some oral hygiene education. Dr Kiertchai says he’ll explain to patients two important things – how to brush your teeth to get rid of accumulated bacteria without damaging the teeth or gums, and how to floss your teeth, both of which should be done daily. "The most important time to brush is at bedtime, because during the night there will be dilution of bacteria as you’re not drinking and there’s little saliva to flush the bacteria away," he advises.
But you can rest easy when it comes to choosing what you eat – so long as you don’t leave damaging foods or liquids in contact with the teeth for a long time. "Sour things like lime juice are acidic and can wash off the enamel surface of teeth, while sweet things can lead to cavities. But you can eat whatever you like, so long as you rinse, or preferably brush, afterwards."
But checkups are still important
Even with the best of oral hygiene care, regular checkups should be scheduled for a number of reasons – the main one being that a dentist could save your life, as dentists are usually the first to discover mouth cancer.
During a normal checkup, dentists will usually check the gum’s condition, looking for any inflammation or irritation, they’ll check for cavities, and they may take an x-ray to check that your teeth and jawbone structure are normal. Dr Kiertchai says that up to 50 per cent of people can potentially develop a problem with the alignment of their jaw. "In most cases, mother nature does the job perfectly well, but various factors such as improperly extracted teeth or fillings may change the vertical relationship in the jaw," he says. If the problem is caught early, it may simply involve filing a tooth in order to prevent a bigger problem.
For most people, a checkup will simply be that – a checkup. Dr Smile’s Dr Visit Chotchompoo says that patients almost always only need just a clean. "Sometimes I will find something, but then it’s up to the patient to decide on whether we will continue with the treatment or not right away." And if good oral hygiene has been maintained since the last visit, not even a clean might be necessary.
Some people avoid dentists simply because they think there will be pain involved in a visit, often because of a bad past experience during childhood, or outdated knowledge of what dentistry is like today. If you’re afraid, you should still get to a dentist, and tell your dentist about your fears. "I’ll talk to patients if they are afraid about having a check up, or afraid of what will be done. Once I’ve spoken to them, they’re usually no longer afraid," says Bumrungrad Hospital’s Dr Chalorsak.