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Good mouth health has become the less sexy side of dentistry

There’s more to dental treatment than celebrity smiles, writes Deanna O’Connor

One of my favourite ways to waste time is by perusing an Instagram account that goes by the handle @celebritydentistry, where you can find before and after pictures of ‘smile transformations’ of Hollywood stars. As a society, we’ve reached peak obsession with dental perfection, to the point that ‘dental trends’ is now a thing on TikTok, and a chic toothpaste brand is the essential finishing touch for your bathroom (I’ll admit, I’m a fan of the Florentine brand Marvis, for its gorgeous retro packaging and exotic flavours).

However, with our dogged focus on straightening and whitening our teeth, mouth health, the somewhat less sexy side of dentistry, gets little thought or attention.

Why is looking after our teeth so important? Beyond looking good, our dental health impacts on our health in myriad ways. From the most basic level, good teeth allow us to chew our food properly and aid digestion, says Mary Flanagan, patient-relations manager at Kreativ Dental. She also points out that links between gum health and heart disease have been proven.

People with periodontal disease are roughly twice as likely to have a heart attack as people who have healthy gums. Julie Corliss, an executive editor at Harvard Medical School’s publishing division, writes that, “growing evidence suggests that bacteria and inflammation may underlie the link between the mouth and the heart.”


If you regularly suffer from bleeding gums, this could be a sign of gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease, and it needs to be addressed, not only for the health of your teeth but also because of the inflammation load it is putting on your body. Try flossing after every meal for a week and if it doesn’t make a difference book an appointment with your dentist immediately. Progression from gingivitis to the more serious periodontitis can result in gums pulling away from the tooth, bone loss and teeth that loosen or even fall out.

Under the Treatment Benefit Scheme insured workers, the self-employed and retired workers who have the necessary PRSI contributions can qualify for a free oral exam once per year

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Danes have the healthiest teeth in the world. Their measurement is based on the mean number of decayed, missing and filled permanent teeth (mean DMFT) among the 12-year-old age group; Denmark’s score in 2019 was 0.31 DMFT out of 32 adult teeth. Ireland’s results improved from 2.95 in 1984 to 1.6 in 2002, the latest available figure.

We still have some way to go to improve our dental health as a country; some of the most vulnerable in our society are under served in terms of access to dental care. In the 2021 Annual Report of the Irish Dental Association outgoing-president Clodagh McAllister noted that there were approximately 750 practitioners operating the Dental Treatment Services Scheme, equivalent to one dentist per 2,000 people, with some counties having no participating dentists.

Under the Treatment Benefit Scheme insured workers, the self-employed and retired workers who have the necessary PRSI contributions can qualify for a free oral exam once per year and up to €42 towards a scale and polish or periodontal treatment (deep cleaning) if necessary. If you haven’t been keeping up with regularly yearly check-ups, the fact that it’s free means there is no excuse.

But what happens when you go to the dentist and find out you need a lot of work done? Due to the high cost, many Irish people choose to travel abroad for dental surgeries and treatments such as artificial bone replacement (where bone loss has occurred due to severe gum disease), root-canal treatment and periodontal surgery.

Flanagan organises dental treatments for patients visiting Kreativ Dental’s Budapest clinic. She says that while there is an option to visit for a free consultation, with accommodation provided, many people have already been told by their dentist at home what they need done and go directly for their treatment trip. “On average, the cost of dental treatments or surgeries in Budapest is 40 per cent less than at home,” she says, “And the quality is excellent.”

Common treatments Flanagan sees people travelling for include root canal (the procedure treats infection at the centre of the tooth by removing the infected pulp and nerve and can save a tooth that might otherwise have to be removed) and periodontal surgery (a relatively minor surgery carried out under local anaesthetic in cases of severe gum disease) and artificial bone replacement (where there has been bone loss due to severe gum disease), carried out by the clinic’s highly qualified dentists and maxillofacial surgeons.

There is never a better time than now to start improving your dental health, from more regular flossing to booking in that dentist visit – your future self will thank you for it.