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A snapshot of Te Puke teeth

Teeth for life – Te Puke dentist Dr Jose Marinho changing thinking on dental care. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

A restorative and cosmetic dentist working in Te Puke has offered the whole town some dietary and dental advice to help ensure they keep their teeth for life.

Dr José Marinho, who recently relocated from London, says after two months practising in the town, he has treated many children and adults that need dental work which could have been prevented had they been given preventative oral and diet advice.

“People still think losing teeth is an inevitable part of life,” he says. “However, we can keep our teeth for life if we look after them.”

Dr Marinho, who is originally from Portugal, believes it has a lot to do with peoples’ perception of the dental experience. “It’s partially due to the fact that toothache is one of the worst pains a patient can experience, as well as dental instruments looking like torture devices. In addition, Hollywood has always loved to portray dentists as cruel.”

So, he says, this can get people into a vicious cycle of only going to the dentist when in pain which, normally, means the tooth or teeth are in bad condition and the treatment required is more uncomfortable and expensive. 

“All of which could’ve been avoided had the problems been caught earlier by having regular check-ups with their dentist,” he says.

Fortunately, he sees a new generation of Kiwis getting into the habit of having yearly check-ups, which will help prevent dental problems.

The most common problems Dr Marinho sees is decay due to sugar, gum disease caused by ineffective brushing and flossing and tooth wear due to erosion from acidic foods and drinks and teeth grinding.

Tooth decay happens when bacteria living in the mouth feeds on sugary foods and releases acid, causing cavities.

“Most people don’t feel pain until the decay becomes so bad that it reaches the tooth nerve,” he explains, “meaning extraction or root canal treatment in order to save the tooth.”

Another preventable problem Dr Marinho encounters is gum disease, which again, is usually painless. “The gums are the foundation for the teeth and, if not looked after, the teeth can loosen and fall out or become abscessed and need extraction.”

Plaque is the primary cause of gingivitis or gum disease. However, other factors can contribute to periodontitis, or inflammation of the gums and supporting structures of the teeth - smoking, diabetes, certain medications and a family history.

To prevent gum problems, brush and floss, stop smoking and visit a hygienist every six months to a year for a deep cleanse.

Dental erosion caused by citrus fruits and soft drinks is another common problem Dr Marinho encounters in Te Puke. 

Tooth enamel, which is the strongest substance in our bodies, slowly dissolves until, eventually, the inside called the dentine starts showing. “It’s only noticed when people start getting sensitive to cold and sometimes hot things.”

He says many people put off visiting the dentist because they believe it is expensive. However, yearly check-ups for most people are a cost-effective option, as it will help prevent bigger, more expensive long-term problems.

Dr José Marinho’s check-list to prevent dental decay includes brushing teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste for two minutes, avoiding sugar in tea or coffee, avoiding starchy snacks as well as sugary foods and drinks between meals, snacking on cheese and crackers or vegetables like carrot sticks, and rinsing the mouth straight after snacking with fluoride mouthwash.

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