Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body: Dentist highlights critical link for Kashmir’s oral hygiene

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As the World Oral Health Day heralded with the overarching theme of ‘healthy mouth, healthy body’, the medics highlight some hindrances typically stemming from religious misconceptions in Kashmir. One prevalent ambiguity arises during Ramzan, where there’s uncertainty about whether brushing teeth while fasting invalidates the fast. 

“It’s important to clarify that cleaning teeth, whether using a toothbrush or toothpaste, does not nullify the fast, as cleanliness is an essential aspect of piety,” says Dr. Aalia Firdous, a seasoned general and cosmetic dentist, and oral implantologist based in Srinagar. 

“While cultural hindrances or beliefs affecting dental practices are few, there’s a pressing need to accelerate education and awareness about dental issues.”

With over 8 years of experience, Dr. Aalia has been serving as a consultant dentist since 2019. In addition to her clinical practice, she’s also a medical content analyst at iCliniq – The Virtual Hospital since July 2023. She discusses oral health threadbare in an interview with Free Press Kashmir.

Dr. Aalia Firdous.

Dr. Aalia, cultural beliefs and practices can significantly influence oral health behaviours. How do you see this playing out in Kashmir, and how do these cultural factors impact preventive care and treatment-seeking behaviour related to oral health.

From a cultural standpoint, I’ve observed minimal contradictions among patients regarding dental hygiene practices. Most individuals readily seek treatment for dental issues without much hesitation. However, any hindrances typically stem from religious misconceptions. One prevalent ambiguity arises during Ramadan, where there’s uncertainty about whether brushing teeth while fasting invalidates the fast. It’s important to clarify that cleaning teeth, whether using a toothbrush or toothpaste, does not nullify the fast, as cleanliness is an essential aspect of piety. 

In another case, an elderly lady hesitated to undergo implant procedures due to the belief that implants are permanent and adding anything to the body is impermissible. Conversely, a young cleric underwent implant placement for missing teeth, as it improved his ability to eat comfortably. 

While cultural hindrances or beliefs affecting dental practices are few, there’s a pressing need to accelerate education and awareness about dental issues. By dispelling misconceptions and fostering understanding, we can ensure that individuals make informed decisions about their oral health, regardless of cultural or religious considerations.

Is that why oral health is often described as inseparable from life’s happiness? 

The connection between oral health and our overall happiness is often underestimated. As the saying goes, “Teeth are the index of the face,” highlighting the significance of oral health beyond mere functionality. In today’s world, people recognize that oral health contributes significantly to aesthetics. A radiant smile not only enhances one’s appearance but also boosts self-confidence. Moreover, beyond aesthetics, oral hygiene plays a vital role in an individual’s overall health. 

Research suggests links between oral health and conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Furthermore, maintaining healthy teeth and gums supports efficient digestion and ensures better nutrition absorption, underscoring the holistic impact of oral care on our well-being. Our oral cavity serves as the gateway to our internal organs. Prioritizing oral hygiene isn’t just about preserving a winning smile; it’s about nurturing overall health and vitality. By caring for our oral health, we’re effectively safeguarding the well-being of our entire body.

Dr Aalia, the traditional Kashmiri diet is known for its rich flavours and unique dishes. How does this diet impact oral health, and are there specific foods or dietary practices that are particularly beneficial or harmful for oral health? 

Kashmir boasts a rich food culture that significantly influences our oral health. We Kashmiris have a profound love for our staple rice, which, surprisingly, can contribute to cavities. Rice contains carbohydrates, and saliva turns this carbohydrate into sugar. One simple practice that can save us from getting cavities is practicing bedtime oral routine. Brushing and flossing before going to bed is very mandatory. This routine holds more importance than the morning routine, which we only practice to stay fresh. 

As avid meat lovers, many of us have the habit of chewing on bones, which can lead to tooth fractures. It’s essential to break this habit to safeguard our dental health. Additionally, with Kashmir being the largest producer of almonds and walnuts, it’s common for households to have them on hand. Almonds are a good source of calcium, helping the enamel to grow strong. The walnuts have folic acid, magnesium, and iron that help gum health. However, attempting to crack open walnuts and almonds with our teeth can result in tooth fractures. I had a patient come up to me recently who tried to crack open the walnut using his teeth. This fractured his tooth into two halves, and we unfortunately had to extract the tooth. 

Despite these challenges, we have the privilege of enjoying Kashmiri apples, which offer numerous benefits for oral health. Rich in antioxidants and vitamins, Kashmiri apples help break down plaque, keeping our mouths fresh and healthy. So let’s remember the wisdom of “an apple a day” and make it a part of our daily routine to maintain our oral health while indulging in the delights of Kashmiri cuisine. 

Since this year’s theme for World Oral Health Day is ‘Healthy mouth, healthy body,’ what does this theme mean for the commoners, and how can they relate to it in their daily lives? 

The overarching theme of ‘Healthy mouth, healthy body’ for World Oral Health Day highlights the critical link between oral health and overall well-being, emphasizing the need to prioritize dental care. Statistics show that oral health issues, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems. For example, gum disease has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. By embracing good oral hygiene practices and regularly visiting the dentist, individuals can significantly enhance their quality of life. Consider the impact of reducing smoking on gum health; not only does this benefit oral health, but it also promotes healthier lungs and overall respiratory function. 

Similarly, preserving natural teeth to avoid extractions or invasive treatments promotes better digestion and optimal nutrition absorption. Conversely, individuals who experience tooth loss often face challenges such as indigestion and compromised chewing ability, leading to a lower quality of life and increased stress. 

Prioritizing oral health is about more than just a dazzling smile; it’s about nurturing overall health and vitality. By heeding dental advice and investing in oral care, individuals can pave the way for a healthier, more fulfilling life. 

We often hear about the importance of regular dental check-ups. Could you share why these check-ups are crucial, even when we might not be experiencing any oral health issues, and how can they benefit us in the long run?

I often tell my patients that even us dentists need to see another dentist every six months. After all, as much as I can peer into my own mouth, I still need a professional to get the full picture. It’s like trying to give yourself a haircut – it’s possible, but the results might not be pretty! But on a serious note, seeing a dentist regularly is crucial because some dental issues, like gum diseases and early cavities, can sneak up on you without any obvious symptoms. It’s all about nipping those problems in the bud before they turn into major toothaches or expensive procedures. 

The early detection and treatment of oral health issues can save individuals up to 50-80% in treatment costs compared to advanced stages of the disease. That’s a significant savings that highlights the importance of regular check-ups. And speaking of expenses, let me tell you, it’s much cheaper to tackle dental issues early on than to wait until you’re in excruciating pain and your wallet is weeping along with you. Trust me, I’ve seen enough patients come in with a toothache and a look of dread on their faces because they put off seeing the dentist for too long. 

So, dental treatment isn’t expensive – it’s the neglect that’ll cost you an arm and a tooth! 

Many people are unsure about the basic oral care routine they should follow. Could you outline a simple oral care regime that can help improve oral health and overall quality of life? 

The sacred oral care routine is the secret to a sparkling smile and a healthy mouth. First up, make sure you’re eating right – load up on foods rich in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins to give your teeth that superhero strength. Then, don’t slack on brushing! Hit those pearly whites twice a day, without fail. And, of course, don’t forget to floss – it’s like giving your mouth a mini spa treatment, leaving it feeling fresh and clean. Oh, and watch out for those sneaky culprits like soda drinks and caffeine – they can do a number on your enamel. Stay hydrated too, it’s not just good for quenching your thirst, but also for keeping your mouth in top shape. Regular dental check-ups are a must – think of it as a pampering session for your mouth. 

Lastly, when it comes to using products like anti-sensitivity toothpaste and mouthwash, less is more. Always check with your dentist first. Remember, your smile is your best accessory, so take care of it! 

What are some of the common mistakes people make while brushing, and what tips do you have for ensuring thorough cleaning? 

Proper brushing technique is essential for good oral health. Let’s talk about a practical approach to brushing your teeth. Have you ever noticed how some people brush their teeth aggressively, almost as if they’re trying to scrub away the stains? It’s a common habit, but it can actually lead to dental issues like abrasion, attrition, and abfraction. These problems often manifest as “cuts” at the gum level, which can be quite uncomfortable. To avoid these issues, it’s important to brush gently using a toothbrush with extra-soft bristles. Instead of scrubbing back and forth, try using small circular motions while keeping the brush at a 45-degree angle to your tooth surface. This technique helps clean your teeth effectively without causing damage. Now, here’s where the time factor comes in. 

Many of us rush through brushing, just going through the motions. But spending at least 2-and-a-half-minute brushing is recommended to thoroughly remove debris and food residue from our teeth. It might sound like a long time, but you can break it down by dividing your teeth into segments and brushing each segment twice. It’s a simple way to ensure you’re giving your teeth the attention they deserve. 

So, next time you brush your teeth, remember to be gentle, use circular motions, and take your time. You’ll likely notice the difference in your oral health. 

Flossing is often recommended as an important part of oral hygiene. Could you explain why it’s so crucial and how it contributes to maintaining good oral health? 

Flossing is a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy mouth. The spaces between our teeth can be sneaky hiding spots for food particles, plaque, and bacteria that a toothbrush simply can’t reach. That’s where dental floss comes in, effectively sweeping away debris and plaque to prevent cavities and gum disease. Toothpicks, while tempting, can actually do more harm than good. They can contribute to bone loss and create more gaps between teeth, worsening the issue. That’s why it’s crucial to opt for a more effective solution like dental floss. 

Flossing may take some practice and patience, but the benefits are well worth the effort. It ensures a thorough clean between teeth and along the gumline, keeping your smile bright and your gums healthy. For those on the go, water flossers offer a convenient alternative. They provide an effective and hassle-free way to clean between teeth, making them a worthy addition to any oral hygiene routine. Taking care of your oral health is key to maintaining a happy and healthy smile. With options like dental floss and water flossers, keeping your teeth and gums in top shape has never been easier. 

So how often should individuals be flossing, and are there any techniques or tips you recommend for effective flossing? 

When it comes to flossing, there’s no one-size-fits-all technique. The key is to gently tuck the floss between your teeth until you feel it lightly touching your gums. Then, give it a little swirl between each tooth and pull it out – you’ll be amazed at how quickly and precisely it removes those stubborn food particles without causing any irritation. 

Flossing should be done daily, ideally before bedtime, to remove food particles and plaque, preventing cavities and maintaining oral health. So, before you bid goodnight to your day, take a few minutes to give your teeth the attention they deserve. A little effort in flossing can go a long way in maintaining a healthy smile and preventing dental issues down the road. Your teeth will thank you in the morning! 

Choosing the right toothbrush can be confusing for many people. What factors should individuals consider when selecting a toothbrush, and what type of toothbrush do you recommend for optimal oral health?

When selecting a toothbrush, opt for softer bristles over harder ones to avoid abfractions. While you may buy toothbrush having hard bristle with intention of removing the calculus or stains, it won’t serve that purpose. The brush’s purpose is to remove debris and food residue, not plaque or stains. Additionally, prioritize toothbrushes with smaller head sizes for increased flexibility and better reach, especially for reaching the last molars. While electric brushes are popular, if you have more cavities and require thorough cleaning, consider using a manual brush for better control and precision. 

Manual brushes allow users to apply the right amount of pressure and target specific areas more effectively. Additionally, manual brushes are often more affordable and convenient for travel.

Bad breath can be a common concern for many individuals. What causes bad breath, and how can this issue be effectively managed or eliminated? 

Having bad breath, or halitosis, can be a significant concern, affecting both social interactions and self-confidence. While occasional bad breath can be attributed to consuming foods like garlic and onions, persistent bad breath often indicates underlying issues beyond just poor oral hygiene. Persistent bad breath can result from various factors, including poor oral hygiene practices such as inadequate brushing, flossing, or cleaning the tongue. In such cases, consulting a dentist is advisable to address issues like gum disease, excessive calculus buildup, or other oral health issues contributing to bad breath. 

However, if bad breath persists despite maintaining good oral hygiene, it may indicate underlying medical conditions. Conditions like acid reflux, diabetes-related dry mouth, or respiratory tract infections can lead to persistent bad breath. Additionally, smoking and tobacco use are known to contribute to long-term bad breath. While occasional bad breath can be managed with good oral hygiene practices, persistent bad breath may require further investigation by a healthcare professional to identify and address underlying causes. 

There’s growing awareness of the link between oral health and various systemic conditions. Could you share some insights into how conditions like dementia, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are connected to oral health, and how our oral health can impact our overall well-being? 

Gum health is closely linked to diabetes, as gum disease can hinder insulin effectiveness, leading to higher blood sugar levels. Regular dental check-ups and calculus removal are now emphasized to manage diabetes effectively. Neurological conditions like stress grinding and dementia can also manifest in dental issues, emphasizing the need for holistic healthcare. In some cases, gum diseases have been found to impact cardiovascular health significantly. For patients with atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by plaque buildup in the arteries, having gum diseases can exacerbate heart issues. Another concern is endocarditis, where bacteria from the infected oral cavity can travel through the bloodstream and affect the heart valve, making maintaining oral health crucial. 

I often see expecting mothers visiting my clinic during their gestational months, and it’s essential for them to prioritize oral hygiene. Research indicates that 45% of women who experience preterm labour have poor oral hygiene. This highlights that oral health doesn’t just affect the general population’s systemic conditions but can also impact the developing fetus inside the womb. Therefore, ensuring good oral hygiene during pregnancy is vital for both maternal and fetal well-being. 

There are often misconceptions surrounding oral health. What are some common myths you’ve encountered, and how can we educate the public to dispel these myths and promote better oral hygiene habits? 

The misconceptions surrounding oral health are indeed plentiful, often stemming from a narrow focus on teeth. Patients sometimes prioritize cosmetic procedures like teeth whitening over the foundation of good oral health – their gums. When encountering such cases, I humorously remark that they’re whitewashing a building on the verge of collapse. 

Healthy gums are crucial for strong teeth, as poor gum health can lead to bone loss and loose teeth. It’s vital for patients to understand that investing in gum hygiene is as important as cosmetic enhancements. A beautiful smile is truly radiant when supported by healthy gums and teeth. One prevalent myth among patients is that scaling makes teeth loose. This misconception arises from individuals undergoing scaling after significant calculus buildup and bone loss. For them, the calculus acts as a support system for their teeth. However, scaling effectively cleans teeth while preserving the attachment between teeth and gums, enhancing oral health and stability. 

Another common misconception is that scaling permanently removes calculus. In reality, it’s a regular maintenance practice similar to taking a shower to remove dirt. Just as we need regular showers to stay clean, our teeth require periodic scaling every six months to prevent calculus buildup and maintain optimal oral hygiene. 

There’s a common misconception that primary or milk teeth are inconsequential since they’ll eventually fall out. However, milk teeth play a vital role until around 12 years of age, so neglecting them can lead to issues down the line. 

Understanding these misconceptions is crucial for promoting comprehensive oral health education and dispelling myths that could potentially harm dental well-being.

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