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Sunday, February 5, 2012

"I am your Dentist"

Not quite as in the musical The Little Shop of Horrors, but in the spirit of your never knowing what I might embarrass myself by writing about, I'm on about teeth.

This foray into dentistry was precipitated by the fact that I'm now in possession of two vital pieces of equipment I came to, or came to me, only after I fell ill. I can't say how grateful I am to have both. It might have special value for people with problems similar to mine.

I'm aware I could be telling you stuff you know about better than I do. But here goes. 

The first is pictured here. It's a flosser. Well, that's what I call it - as good a name as any; better'n some. Disposable, of course. Use once, throw away.

I hasten to add that the principle of flossing is hardly new to me. I flossed my teeth regularly for many years, but with the standard dental floss that needs two hands to use. 

When I lost the effective use of my right arm and hand for such tricky operations, I was stymied in terms of how to do it. It's not something you want someone else to do for you. I wouldn't anyway.

That's when Tracey remembered about these. The beauty of them for me is that they are operated with one hand. I was very pleased that the gauge of floss thickness was perfect for my teeth, and very strong (much more so than most standard floss), and that after getting familiar with using one, I could reach every crevice between teeth on both sides.

And the other device? I'll come to that in a minute. Firstly, let me tell you a story. Once I remembered that it was an ABC story, I located it online, so that saves me a lot of trouble. Thanks, Auntie, for your brilliant archives.

So, I can cut to the chase and you can read the full story for yourself. The main thing here is that a team of forensic specialists was allowed to do some post-mortems on bodies in nineteenth century graves being relocated in Adelaide. 

It turns out that in colonial Australia, one of the common causes of death - and painful death at that - related to teeth problems. Adults and children. Here's a brief excerpt:
Dr Renata Henneberg, Odontologist, Adelaide University: Here we have a lot of cavities, and huge ones. The tooth is half way eaten up. Many of the teeth were still present in the jaws causing very bad breath.

Tim Anson, Project Leader, Flinders University: So this person would have been in a great deal of discomfort?

Dr Renata Henneberg: A great deal of pain, obviously, yes. And you can see here as well rotten teeth. The infection went down the root, the bone was rotting and producing a lot of puss. The puss opened the hole in the bone and was released through the hole. If the pieces of bone were infected to the stage [to cause poisoning to the blood], could even have caused the death of one of the individuals.

Narration: It's not just the adults that suffered with their teeth. Even more telling are the records left in the dentition of the young....

Holy molar. That would surely confirm anyone's faith in the necessity for flossing! Trying it for the first time often results in blood coming from the gum between each pair of teeth. That could signify the first stages of gum disease, but with regular flossing, that bleeding doesn't happen any more. Any smell is rotting food being dragged from between the teeth, most probably, and no amount of brushing gets it out. Flossing will.

The other thing I've taken to using? I confess it was arrogance and ignorance about toothbrushes that stopped me using one of these for so long.

Yes - an electric toothbrush.

I believed, based on no good evidence at all, that they were just gimmicks, and I could do the job just as well manually. I was wrong. Using a high quality one of these is like comparing using a power drill to a brace-and-bit; or maybe, a current model sewing machine to an old Singer treadle. All of them might get the job done, but which would you use if you had the choice?

Like most things, I found it took a little practice to use it properly. The powered toothbrush uses very high vibration as well as movement in different planes to strip off tartar in a way that you just can't with a plain old toothbrush. It's not as powerful as the gadget dentists use when they rip away all the crud caked on the tooth surface, but after using one regularly, you realise what it's getting rid of, bit by bit, and what a regular toothbrush just can't do.

The brush-head itself is masterly in design. If you think it's a gimmick, try playing it on the top surface of your tongue and you'll really feels what it's doing!

My advice, for what it's worth? Treat yourself to both, if you haven't already. Use floss and an electric toothbrush, and you could possibly save yourself heaps of money (and pain?) avoiding the dentist. You might even live longer.

Postscript Saturday, 25 February 2012 7:40 PM. 

I found this site:

It backs up what I say. I added this comment on their site (if they accept it!):

I think it is important when using an electric toothbrush to use only gentle pressure with it on the teeth and gums, and let the toothbrush do its work. Heavy pressure serves no useful purpose. Move it slowly and methodically along the teeth, top, back and front surfaces.

With a little practice - and opening WIDE to get right to the back teeth and gums - a high quality electric toothbrush is wonderfully effective.

I believe it's also important not to allow the highly vibrating plastic brush head itself to come into contact with the teeth any more than you can avoid; just the soft bristles. This avoids the 'jackhammer' or 'hammerdrill' effect, which could possibly be harmful to tooth surfaces.

By the way, I am NOT your dentist. Each person is different, and you pay dentists highly because they have the professional knowledge. I'm just a guy with flossing equipment and a good electric toothbrush. 


  1. Sometimes we forget how fortunate we are. As a vast leap forward from your story of 19th Century dental horrors, I had my first dental experience a little over 70 years ago. Our whole class of primary school children lined up in a queue before the 'school dentist' ... nobody escaped. The dentist stood beside a table with a few scary implements on it and a bucket on the floor. He was there to extract first teeth that were loose or, at least, likely to become loose in the foreseable future. As each child in turn stood before him with mouth open, he gripped various teeth, one after another, with his pliers and wrenched them out. We then had to spit in the bucket of blood - it was quite a nasty sight; I think other classes had gone through before us. Then, as we left the room, a nice nurse gave us each a boiled sweet.

    Today, before filling a tooth, my dentist gives me a surface anaesthetic so that I don't feel the needle go into my gum - and then apologises if the taste of the surface anaesthetic is unpleasant!

    "Oh dear ... you poor thing," friends say, "another trip to the dentist." !!!

    Best wishes to you both.

  2. Oh no Bob! What a horrible story! Very cunning of the dentist to hand out sweets as the children left...reminds me of my dentist's wife coming to visit me in hospital after (my) serious operation, and bringing me a very large jar of boiled sweets! I was so pleased to see her I didn't put 2 and 2 together, heheh. (joke, of course).

    Denis, so true about flossing. I haven't tried the electric toothbrush tho I'm sure it's technology even I could handle.

    I'm worried about the 'puss' in the teeth though :) Nastier even than the other stuff.

    Julie M

    1. Boiled lollies, cakes.... anything chock full of refined sugar - that was the prize for everything, or to mend a cut knee or a burn or a broken heart.

      The only good thing was that we didn't have to get our wisdom teeth out in late teens or as adults. There were enough gaps for them to fill. And of course, all flossing and toothbrushes became irrelevant for many, because the dentists were pretty quick to pull the lot out and make up a set of dentures.

  3. Bob: that's pretty awful. The kid bit, I mean. I vividly remember the school dentist too, and the worst part of his visit was the pedal driven drill - no anaesthetic; your tooth heated up as the drill bit slowly ground its way through the nerve in the tooth. The sound of that slow grinding was surpassed only by the smell of the cooking tooth and the pain. No high speed water cooled equipment or injections except for pulling molars.

    Tell this to kids today and they wooont b'leeve yer.

  4. Haha, the title of your article made me think about the famous 'Luke, I am your father' phrase. I just love those floss thingies. So easy to use and they are not that expensive either. Keep smiling!

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. I never thought of the Star Wars parallel. 'I am your dentist' is one of the songs from the musical Little Shop of Horrors. The evil dentist in the movie version is played by a young Jack Nicholson [who else?] though he doesn't sing the song.

      The flossers are great.

  5. Studies have shown that regular flossing reduces the risk of heart attack. In fact, how we take care of our teeth and mouth drastically affects our overall health. Moreover, compared to a manual toothbrush, an electric toothbrush has twice the benefits, as it effectively removes food residue in between your teeth. Flossing and using an electric toothbrush cuts down the chances of tooth decay, gingivitis, and other gum diseases.

  6. That device is really helpful removing stuck food in teeth.


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