Northwest Asian Weekly
Tom Mar, DDS, owns Mar Family Dentistry, located in the International District at 318 6th Ave. S. in Seattle. He was a governor’s scholar and studied at Sacramento City College and the University of California, Davis.
For this article, Mar cheerfully answered questions about teeth.
NWAW: Are there dental issues that you come across in Asian Americans or Asians more often (compared to the general population)?
MAR: Older Asians tend to put less value on their teeth and gums.
There is less interest in prevention and choices are often dictated by cost.
There persists the old idea that “one is going to lose their teeth when they get old anyway, so why bother?”
Perhaps that is why I see a lot more gum disease and neglected teeth in middle-aged and older Asian patients. Younger Asian patients are usually as healthy as other ethnic groups of similar age and family income.
Sometimes, people don’t go to dentists because they don’t have insurance. How do you respond?
Your health is important enough for you to budget for it. You buy a house, car, food, clothing, or entertainment, even though insurance does not pay for these things. Give your health at least the same priority as clothing and entertainment! Have you ever calculated how much you spend on those items each year?
Also consider the idea that you will save a lot more money by keeping your mouth healthy. It really adds up if you neglect your teeth and gums and have to repair or replace them. It is really like the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
There are so many toothbrushes out there. Can you tell us the sort of things we should be looking for? Also, how often should we replace our toothbrushes?
There really is no best toothbrush, even though manufacturers would like us to believe [that] theirs is.
Much of the hype is marketing. For manual toothbrushes, look for ones with soft nylon bristles. Stay away from anything harder, as they tend to damage your teeth and gums with regular use. Change them every three to four months, after getting a cold or the flu, or when you see the bristles begin to wear or splay outwards.
Proper brushing with daily flossing is usually adequate. For those with manual dexterity problems, I like to recommend a Sonicare.
Also, there are so many toothpastes. What should we look for in searching for the best ones for us?
Shop for a toothpaste that is fluoridated, as most are. Look at the expiration date as some sit in warehouses for more than a year and the active ingredients become less effective over time. For those with sensitivity, I recommend Sensodyne. For those with extreme sensitivity or very prone to decay or [get] dry mouth, I prescribe a high fluoride toothpaste with desensitizer. Be careful of toothpastes with many ingredients, as people are known to have allergic reactions to certain chemicals. Some of the whitening toothpastes have led to sensitivity for patients.
We know that candy and soda is horrible for teeth, but what kind of other food might do a lot of damage without us realizing it?
Sticky foods like baked goods and certain fruit snacks are also big contributors to dental problems.
Fruit juices that you think are good for you have high sugar content, so beware! If you can’t brush after consuming these items, at least rinse [your teeth] with water. I would like to throw in a warning about over-bleaching your teeth. This is not a food related problem, but I believe can damage your teeth or cause problems for your oral tissues with long-term constant usage. Follow the recommendations on the packaging.
What are some common mistakes people make in their dental care and how can they avoid these mistakes?
Improper brushing and flossing technique including not brushing and flossing or speeding through the process. [Do] you ever notice when you wash your car that everything looks clean when it is wet and when it dries, you see the many places you missed? Go about your oral hygiene in a methodical method and like the person that washes their car methodically, it will come out cleaner. Another problem is not changing your brush or brush head regularly or delaying your dental checkups.
What are ways people who have a fear of going to the dentist overcome their fear?
Start off with a procedure that is not conducive to pain. Make an appointment for an exam and x-rays, letting the doctor know you are an anxious patient. Ease into dental treatment and don’t delay until there is an emergency that forces you into the office. Avoid caffeinated beverages and get plenty of rest before the appointment. Arrive early.
Come in with a friend or family member. Ask the doctor to explain the treatment as he goes along and to warn you if something might cause discomfort or be unexpected.
I heard that women are more prone to oral health problems? Is that a myth or fact?
That is true. Women have more hormonal changes, which cause problems with the gums and teeth. The most obvious is during pregnancy. Women tend to be very susceptible to plaque, resulting in pregnancy gingivitis and growths forming on the gums. The enamel of the teeth can be eroded for those suffering morning sickness with vomiting. More frequent checkups with the dentist accompanied by brushing and flossing after every meal will help.
Gum disease is a very serious problem, but often people don’t grasp just how serious. Can you enlighten us?
One way to look at gum disease is to compare your gums and the bone surrounding each of your teeth as foundation material, so one can imagine that if your foundation material is removed by any cause, the teeth being held in place get into trouble. The bacteria normally in your mouth and around your teeth feed on the food and sugary mess left after eating or drinking. The bacteria excrete acid, which irritate the gums and bone causing swelling, bleeding, and the bone to break down. This creates more holes and spaces for more bacteria and things just keep getting worse. Untreated, you end up with bloody, swollen gums, loose teeth with spaces showing up where the foundation used to be. Breath gets bad and teeth fall out. Bacteria can spread to other parts of the body. There is more and more evidence linking gum disease to other chronic illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes. (end)
For more about Dr. Tom Mar, visit www.marfamilydentistry.com.