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Ben Wilcox
Ben is the practice principal at Shore Dental, Sydney. He graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2004 and…

Could your fear of the dentist be detrimental to your health?

March 9, 2015 by Ben Wilcox


Stew Davies is a health conscious man.

At age 10 his uncle took him kayaking in Bundeena National Park. He was head over rapids in love with the sport. Every weekend, holiday and Friday afternoon has been dedicated to it since.

His infatuation with adventure didn't stop there.

Rock climbing along the Santa Barbara coastline. Morning swims at Freshwater. Everesting attempts near Thredbo. Everything Stew does and loves requires his body to be at peak performance levels of perfection.

Undoubtedly, Stew is a very active man. But one mention of “the dentist” and Stew's hands go clammy with cold. His heart hastens. The saliva in his mouth dries up leaving him as parched as a hiker in Nevada.

Stew is definitely not alone. But with new research highlighting links between oral health, heart health, lung health and diabetes, Stew would be wise to start conquering his fears pretty quickly.

Here's why.

More than half of Aussies put off going to the dentist

Chances are you, or someone you know avoids going to the dentist. A huge 67.1 per cent of Australians indicated in a recent study that they have avoided a dental appointment. The study, which was conducted by the Australian Dental Association, also found 16 per cent of Australians have a strong fear of the dentist, leading to less consultations and poorer general oral health.

Those are the facts. So, beyond a spot of bad breath, what risks really exist?

World Oral Health Day is on March 20 2015. In honour of every dentist's favourite day, we're putting aside the next month to bring you a series of blog posts on the benefits of good oral hygiene; alongside some detailed information on the consequences of poor oral health.

So what exactly are we risking when we forgo our routine trip to the dentist?

The biggest culprit is periodontal (gum) disease. Bacteria causes the soft pink flesh around your teeth to become inflamed. Gums start to recede from the bone; forming pockets susceptible to infection.

These infections can then move to other areas of the body and develop into serious illnesses, such as:

Heart disease - a lifelong condition requiring daily medication that comes with a high risk of heart attack and death

Lung diseases - many severe conditions making it difficult to breathe and therefore live a normal, active lifestyle

Diabetes - long term complications include stroke, kidney failure, eye damage and heart disease

Oral cancer - in its most severe form this calls for surgery and the potential loss of your voice

Obesity - being overweight can cause joint pain, other systemic illnesses such as diabetes, and prevent one from living a normal active lifestyle

Aside from serious illness, the side effects of gum disease are just as dangerous and unsavoury.

The list is long... and uncomfortable. It includes:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Sore gums
  • Swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth infection
  • Dirty mouth
  • Stained and yellow teeth
  • Wobbly teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Missing teeth
  • Dry mouth

But, managing your oral health and protecting your systemic health doesn't have to be hard.

The good news is a simple biannual dental check is your best defence against oral health illnesses. Statistics from The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that 3 in 10 adults aged between 25 and 44 have untreated tooth decay. Periodontal disease prevention starts with a simple dental checkup and teeth cleaning treatment with a dental hygienist.

Pregnant women also need to take extra care of your oral hygiene when expecting.

Other topics in the series will cover men's heightened risk of developing heart disease, the damage sugary ‘detoxes' have on your teeth, and how safe (or not) your tooth whitening toothpaste really is.

You might find a visit to the dentist scary, but it's certainly more friendly than the sinister alternatives. Click here to reach your local North Shore Dentist.