There's a Chinese saying that when you have a toothache it's yaomingor "like dying." Despite this and the growing trend for Chinese people to show greater concern for their precious eating tools, most people still don't take tooth problems as seriously as they do other diseases.
Nevertheless, "Oral health is not only important to our physical health but also to our psychology," says Cai Zhong, director of the Sino-Canadian Shanghai Dental Centre. "The WHO (World Health Organization) has listed tooth condition as one of the prime indicators of a human's state of health. Plus, there's no doubt that people with clean and healthy teeth are more confident in day-to-day life."
The major tooth problems affecting Chinese people include decayed teeth, dental calculus and gingivitis, all of which can develop into serious oral (and other) illnesses. "Tooth problems can cause heart disease and impact on your overall health condition", Cai warns. "So people should see their dentist for a check-up every three to six months."
However, many people won't visit a dentist until they suffer acute tooth problems such as toothache. "I only see my dentist when I can't take the aching anymore", says Xi An, a Shanghai girl who was having a tooth filled at the Yangpu Dental Clinic.
Despite the best efforts of dentists, unfortunately our pearly whites are doomed to lose their gleam eventually due to ageing. Many problems, though, can be prevented through effective (but not excessive) tooth brushing. "I'd rather use the term 'wipe off' than 'brush'," comments Cai.
Also, according to Cai, it's important to vary your toothpaste. "Don't stick to one brand or type of toothpaste. It's just like taking antibiotics - the oral bacteria become "drug resistant" to the toothpaste you use."
So the expert advice seems to be - if you want to keep your teeth happy and healthy - brush often, see the dentist and upset the mouth bacteria with frequent changes of paste. After all, it's much better to smother your teeth with tender loving care than keep them sitting in a glass by your bedside.
(That's Shangha May 9, 2004)