We're really bad at looking after our teeth. In 2014, the Irish Dental Association found that 58% of people don't visit the dentist until they need emergency treatment. So what do you need to know about your teeth and why you should look after them? Dentist David Murnaghan has 12 fascinating and shocking facts about teeth.
1 Gum disease is the most common, but among the least acknowledged health problems in Europe - eight out of 10 people aged 35 and over have it. Painful chewing, loose teeth and gums that pull away are signs of severe gum disease, known as periodontitis.
The European Federation of Periodontology says this condition is "significantly and independently associated with the major chronic inflammatory diseases of ageing", including type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, obesity and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
2 It's also been linked to premature birth and low-birth-weight babies. It's thought that in some women, oral bacteria not only enter the bloodstream, they also alert the immune system to send "deliver baby now" signals to the uterus.
3 Gum disease might shorten your odds of stroke and heart disease, Northern Ireland's biggest killers. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through your gums and join fatty plaques in blood vessels, and inflamed blood vessels can restrict blood flow to your heart and raise blood pressure.
4 Gum disease might cause hip and knee replacements to fail. DNA from the plaque of patients with gum disease was found in their creaking artificial joints and could be the reason why replacements fail when no local infection is found.
5 You have to look after your children's teeth. If you're not sure about what to do your dentist will tell you, and they can also provide safe and painless fissure sealants on your child's back teeth to prevent decay. These plastic coatings stop food and bacteria getting into the tiny grooves in the chewing surfaces. About half of children in Ireland have decay by age five and every year about 10,000 go under general anaesthetic for extractions, with an average age of six - the most traumatic and expensive outcome imaginable.
6 Sparkling water is the lesser of many evils. Acid erodes tooth enamel, but it also gives carbonated water that nice tart taste. It's a minimal amount of acidity: the pH of still water is 7, sparkling water 4, orange juice 3.5 and Coke 2.5. Battery acid is 1. As a child you probably put a dirty penny in a glass of cola overnight and wondered at how it emerged shiny and new. That was carbonation combined with acid at work, which dissolves metal oxides and teeth.
7 If you suffer from terrible headaches and can't find the cause, it might be TMD. Temporomandibular disorder is a jaw condition that dentists see a lot of and we are trying to get the word out to more GPs. It is usually caused by grinding your teeth, a common response to stress which we usually do unwittingly, especially during sleep. Check your canines and see if they are flat at the ends.
If they are you have been grinding. There are simple ways to stop. A novel new treatment is called Cerezen, which you put in your ears. Every time you clench your teeth it feels uncomfortable so you release, which eventually becomes second nature.
8 All restorative dental work, where a damaged tooth is built up to look like new, harms it further. This is especially the case with popular Hollywood-style veneers. Veneers are a bit like getting your nails done in the sense that you have to make room for them by clipping the natural nail back. It's the same with teeth - your dentist must shave back the natural tooth enamel to make room for the veneers. They are wafer thin so it's just a sliver, but nevertheless this is natural enamel you will never get back.
9 No matter how good your dentist is, crowns and veneers don't last a lifetime. In fact the average lifespan of a crown is 10 to 15 years, which means you will need to go through the whole inconvenience and expense again a bit further down the line. This is why dentists go on about good oral hygiene, because keeping your own teeth for life really is the best possible outcome for your health and wallet.
10 Your dentist is a good bet for non-surgical facial aesthetics like Botox and dermal fillers. Why? Dentists carry out facial injections all the time. When someone does injections a lot they get smoother and faster and they learn how to make the patient more comfortable. Dentists are students of facial anatomy and have a knack for enhancing rather than changing your facial features. They are generally risk-averse by nature too - you'd be hard-pressed to find one prepared to accede to your sudden whim for a trout pout.
11 Yellow teeth aren't unhealthy. In fact I've known patients who have regretted going for whiter than white veneers or crowns and unless you are comfortable with drawing stares you too might feel awkward. I usually advise patients to go one or two shades down from the picture in the magazine they've brought in. Teeth yellow with age - it's not a sign of disease. If the artificial teeth in your mouth are extremely white you will have to keep whitening your natural teeth for balance. Having said that, going a few shades lighter with veneers and crowns can look great when done sensitively.
12 Dentistry doesn't always go to plan, so if you are thinking about going abroad to save money on big ticket dental work like implants, factor in the cost of travelling there again in case something goes wrong. If you have been focusing on price alone you might consider that a dentist local to you knows they must sort out any problems, so they will have your best interests at heart.
They won't start treatment until your mouth is ready, whereas there might be pressure on dentists abroad to go ahead prematurely because it takes too long to treat gum disease, and they might try to squeeze too much treatment into a short time frame. The Irish Dental Association says 6,000 patients a year return to local dentists with problems from overseas dental care.
David Murnaghan (34), from Belfast, is a health pundit on TV and radio who won Rising Star at the 2017 Irish Dentistry Awards.
The former St Malachy’s College pupil qualified from Queen’s University Belfast in 2006 and completed a dental implant certificate aged 24 in 2007.
David set up the award-winning Boyne Dental and Implant Clinic in 2012 after converting the old courthouse building in Navan into a high tech five-surgery practice. He receives referrals from across Northern Ireland and the Republic for complex dental implant cases.
In a well-known dental case covered widely in the Irish media, he rebuilt the entire mouth of 32-year-old Irish dad Michael Sheridan who teeth had rotted from drinking six litres of fizzy drinks every day.
At the start of this year, Dr Murnaghan helped his wife Carol deliver their son Darragh at the side of the N2 motorway, guided over the phone by his sister Mary Murnaghan, who is a consultant gynaecologist in the Royal Hospital in Belfast.