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Oral Health

Many adults have the habit of visiting their dentists only when a problem arises in their mouth. Apart from eating a well-balanced diet and practising effective dental hygiene, regular dental visits are crucial for maintaining a good and effective oral health for all age groups. This is even more important for NZDF Regular Force personnel, as it can affect their deployability.

Oral Health

More information of Dental Services within the NZDF can be found in the Our Health System section here.

Simple steps to keep your teeth and gums healthy

  1. Brush twice daily, especially once before bedtime. Make sure that all the surfaces (outer, inner and chewing surface) of teeth and gum are cleaned for effective plaque removal
  2. Use fluoride toothpaste and after brushing spit the toothpaste out.  Avoid rinsing the paste from your mouth after brushing as this will wash the fluoride away from your teeth
  3. Floss or use interdental brushes once daily to clean between your teeth
  4. Avoid eating sugary, sticky and acidic foods and drinks in between meals
  5. Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods
  6. Visit your dentist for regular check-ups. Your dentist can spot and stop any problems with your teeth and gums at the early stages  

Dental Check-Up

There are many things a dentist can spot during a dental check-up such as weakening older fillings, early signs of gum (periodontal) disease, periodontal disease, gum recessions, tooth and root surface decay, and many other oral problems that can affect your general health. Early detection will help treat the problem at the early stages and stop it from becoming more severe. Dentists can also look for early signs of oral cancer and other diseases that affect your general health.

During a check-up dentists may also take x-rays that will help them see cavities between the teeth and under old fillings, bone loss under the gums, and infections at the end of the root, the dentist will also use x-rays to help assess the shape of the roots before root canal procedures. You can also get a professional clean done by your dentist or dental hygienist to remove calculus - the hardened, calcified plaque -that is hard to remove from the teeth by brushing and flossing alone.

Common Oral Health Issues

The following are some common problems you may experience:

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is an inflammatory disease caused by accumulation of bacteria (dental plaque) on the teeth. Dental plaque is a soft, sticky and initially invisible film of bacteria that forms on teeth. If not removed by brushing and flossing, the bacteria in dental plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Gum disease is a major cause of tooth loss in adults.

Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease, and is most common in adults. Most often it is unnoticed as it is not painful. Your gums may become red, swollen and bleed while cleaning.  Gingivitis can be treated and reversed by professional cleaning and effective home care. If left untreated gingivitis can develop into periodontitis. 

Periodontitis is the destructive form of gum disease and it is not reversible. However it can be treated and stabilised. As the bone and soft tissues supporting the teeth are lost due to this disease, a gum pocket forms around the tooth. This pocket becomes infected, which destroys more supporting bone and soft tissue. Eventually, the tooth becomes loose and falls out or it may need to be removed.

You can prevent gum disease by brushing twice daily, flossing once a day and visiting your dentist regularly.

Tooth sensitivity is a common complaint, especially in the winter. Sometimes this is a relatively easy problem to solve. Studies show that one in four people suffer from sensitive teeth, however, this is greater in the 25-45 age groups and in women. People most likely to suffer from this marginal tooth sensitivity are those who over-enthusiastically brush their teeth, consume more than usual amounts of wine or citrus drinks, have had treatment for gum disease or who have special medical problems - like bulimia.

People whose teeth are sensitive feel pain when they eat or drink things which are very cold (most usually), hot or sweet and when brushing. The classic example is eating ice cream, but simply being out in the cold weather breathing on a frosty morning can be enough to set off the problem. Typically pain from sensitivity is sudden, sharp, and stabbing but subsides very quickly. If left untreated, the pain of sensitivity can lead to poor oral hygiene - it can become quite painful for the sufferer to brush their teeth so they stop doing a thorough job, which only makes the sensitivity problem worse. The problem area is usually near the gum margin where the tooth dentine or "nerve" may be exposed because of a receding gumline. Their problem usually is the tooth margin - just below the enamel and where the 'nerve' is most exposed. Normally it is covered up.
Dentists can recommend desensitising toothpastes as a good way to deal with the problem. Dentists also advise people to use the right type of toothbrush, especially as a lot of tooth sensitivity comes from over-brushing with a hard brush. Soft brushes are recommended but even with a soft brush a careful non-scrubbing technique is recommended.

If you are experiencing continued problems with tooth sensitivity, it is probably a good idea to visit your dentist. No-one needs to suffer from this problem and there is often a simple solution.

Erosion is the loss of the surface of the tooth - especially enamel -that is caused by acid attack. This is different from bacterial acid attack that we call tooth decay. Enamel is the hard outer surface of the tooth seen when we smile and it protects the sensitive dentine underneath. Erosion of the enamel can lead to exposure of the dentine, which may lead to pain and sensitivity with cold foods and drinks.

Erosion is  a slow process that people generally do not become aware of until significant enamel is already lost. Erosion often shows up as hollows on the top surface of the molar teeth or the teeth seem to become smaller or thinner as the enamel erodes away. As the enamel wears away exposing the underlying dentine the teeth may appear a darker yellow colour -the colour of the dentine- and sensitivity to hot, cold or acidic foods and drinks may become noticeable.

How to prevent dental erosion?

  • Limit the number of times each day you eat and drink acid foods and drinks - this reduces the number of acid attacaks on your teeth
  • Don't hold your drinks in the mouth or swish the drinks around your mouth 
  • Finish your meals with cheese or a milk drink as this will help to neutralize the dietary acids
  • If you eat or drink anything acidic, wait for about one hour before brushing your teeth. Brushing straight after acidic foods and drinks may cause even more enamel damage. 

Dry mouth or Xerostomia is a condition where the mouth becomes very dry due to reduced saliva flow. It is caused by certain medical conditions and is also a side effect of medications such as antihistamines, painkillers, high blood pressure medications, diuretics, antidepressants and others.  Problems associated with dry mouth are difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, problems with speaking and a burning sensation in the mouth.

People suffering from dry mouth are more susceptible to tooth decay, gum disease, bad breath and soft tissue irritation for denture wearers.

Your dentist can help prevent problems associated with dry mouth by recommending appropriate methods or treatments to restore moisture in your mouth, or by discussing your medications with your doctor to allow a change if that is possible.



Information on this page has been sourced from the NZ Dental Council Healthy Smiles website.