A mouth full of problems

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I had to deal with a tooth pain recently so I looked up a local dentist and made an appointment. Like most people, I dread going to see the dentist.

Thankfully, my original problem was not too far advanced. After my initial examination, however, the dentist realized that I had better schedule myself in for basic teeth cleaning and a further examination.

I am a terrible dental patient and it had been several years since my last check up. I had wrongly assumed that by brushing regularly and occasionally flossing my teeth, this would be enough to maintain my oral health. Thankfully during this visit to my dentist I was given a good education on tooth care. I discovered that it was not merely my white teeth I had to worry about. The condition of the soft pink gums that hold everything together is equally important.

The doctor used the analogy that a tooth is similar to a fence post resting on hardened and packed earth. The gums of the mouth act as the earth surrounding the post. When the gums become affected by the brown solid build-up around the base of the tooth, this is actually bacteria that causes weakness. Slowly this weakening drifts deeper and deeper into the gum until it reaches the base of the tooth. At this point, serious problems start to occur with a person’s oral health. As the bacteria move down the tooth, it is no longer being held on solid ground. To continue the analogy, the fence post is now being held by soft earth and the wooden pole is loses support and begins to move around. If this condition is not caught in the early stages then it can lead to tooth loss.

Everyone has a bit of a phobia when it comes to seeing the dentist, especially First Nation people from remote communities. For most First Nations there is no local dentist. We have to rely on visiting dentist tours. Most of my visits to the dentist when I was a child were intense to say the least. Due to the fact that we had never had the convenience of a dentist in the community we only received care occasionally and mostly in a situation that was critical. I don’t remember getting any kind of education on preventative maintenance or how important teeth are to health. We all saw dentists in more-or-less last resort emergency situations that always produced pain. In fact, the Cree word for dentist is Kah-mee-nah-pee-teh-pee-chee-keh-t, “the one who pulls teeth out.”

As children, we grew up with an older generation that never fully understood how to maintain good oral health. Our parents and grandparents subsisted on wild food with very few processed foods or sugars in their diet. This meant that most of my Elders had fairly healthy teeth for much of their lives.

The arrival of the Europeans changed our diet with the introduction of new foods including sugar. More processed foods and sugar made it into our regular diet. As a child, I can remember craving hard candies, chips, pop and chocolate bars. I often begged my parents for these treats. Fortunately, our family was not always able to afford these luxuries and most of the time I had to go without. However, the added sugar in my diet and poor tooth care on my part meant that by the time I became a teenager any visits I had to the dentist resulted in tooth pulling and fillings.

When the dentist visited, our people lined up with all types of dire tooth problems. To be fair most of the time people were treated according to the degree of their dental needs. The worst affected were the ones treated first. I can remember sitting for hours in the waiting room surrounded by many other anxious community members. Appointments always ran late and we had to endure moaning and sometimes screaming patients as we waited our turn.

By the time I made it to the big reclining dentist’s chair I was a nervous mess and ready to scream at the slightest touch of any instrument in my mouth. Then things went very rapidly and the next thing you know I was on my way home with tears in my eyes and a numb tongue. The fact that an expert who was educated in tooth care had helped me out was lost on me.

Thanks to Dr. Vos and his team of professionals in Brantford, Ontario, I now have a better idea of what I must do to maintain my teeth and in general I feel better about visiting the dentist office. When I am in the south I find it very easy to receive dental care and I can choose from so many doctors. However, I am saddened that dental care is still not available to most remote First Nations in the north on a fulltime basis. There is no doubt that my people suffer because they don’t have easy access to dental care. One thing for sure is that I intend to take better care of my teeth and to see my dentist regularly. I want to live a long life with a good bite.

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