Visiting your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for checkups and cleanings is an important part of taking care of your oral health. (Photo: Supplied)

Ask the Alumni Expert: Dr. Derek Thiessen (DMD’13)

During Oral Health Month in April, Dr. Derek Thiessen—a dentist based in Swift Current and the president of the College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan—shares his tips on how to take care of your teeth and gums

Dr. Derek Thiessen (DMD’13) is a Swift Current dentist, the president of the College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan, and a part-time instructor in the College of Dentistry. (Photo: submitted)

April is Oral Health Month in Canada, a time to focus on the importance of practicing good oral hygiene as part of overall wellness. In recognition of this month, University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate Dr. Derek Thiessen (DMD’13) discusses why maintaining good oral health is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Thiessen, who grew up on a farm south of Swift Current, Sask., has been practicing dentistry in Swift Current since 2013, when he graduated from USask’s College of Dentistry. He is also the president of the College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan and a part-time instructor in the College of Dentistry. Dr. Thiessen’s favourite dental procedures are wisdom tooth extractions and implant placements with IV sedation.

Why is it important to recognize Oral Health Month?

National Oral Health Month is an excellent opportunity to remind all Canadians about the importance of visiting your dentist regularly and practicing good oral hygiene between visits. Oral health plays a large role in overall health and mental health.

What are the connections between oral health and overall health?

Practicing good oral hygiene is an important factor in preventing some chronic diseases, like cancer and diabetes, as well as serious health conditions, such as respiratory, cardiovascular, and brain diseases. Poor oral health can also contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes.

How can practicing good oral hygiene play a role in preventing some diseases, such as cancer?

Practicing good oral hygiene reduces some risk factors for certain cancers and systemic health conditions. The risk of oral cancer, for example, can be reduced by tobacco cessation, limiting alcohol consumption, and ensuring proper nutrition—all of which also improve oral health.

What are your top tips for maintaining good oral health?

Good oral health can be maintained by brushing and flossing your teeth twice each day. Seeing your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for checkups and cleanings will not only reduce the levels of inflammation in your mouth but will catch conditions early so that they can be treated before they become a bigger issue.

At what age should a child first visit a dentist?

The Canadian Dental Association encourages the assessment of infants by a dentist within six months of the eruption of the first tooth or by 12 months of age. The goal of the first visit is to determine special risk, appropriate interventions, and the frequency of future dental assessments, as well as educating the caregivers on appropriate oral hygiene techniques.

What are your tips for easing dental anxiety in children?

Preparation at home works very well to reduce dental anxiety. Talking to your kids ahead of time about what they can expect, the sounds they might hear, and the tastes and smells they might experience can greatly reduce their anxiety. There are many children’s books about dental visits that can help prepare children as well.

Children are always welcome to come for a visit ahead of time. This allows the children to come meet the dentist and staff, see the office, go for a chair ride, and hopefully have their teeth checked. We like to work our way up to the more in-depth treatments, so the first few visits are kept quick and stress-free so that the child can become comfortable with the experience. For fillings and other procedures, many children do well without sedation or laughing gas, but sometimes it is beneficial to refer the child for general anesthesia.

How often should adults visit their dentist?

It is generally recommended that adults see their dentist annually for a checkup and cancer screening. Cleanings are generally recommended two or three times a year, dependent on the oral health needs of each individual patient. Your dentist and hygienist can make recommendations on frequency based on what they see in your mouth.

What are the most common dental issues you see in your practice?

The most common issue that we see on a day-to-day basis are cavities. The vast majority of the population has had at least one cavity in their life, and they continue to be an issue. Cavities are also the most common cause for other oral health issues, such as infections, abscesses, and tooth loss.

How can those issues be prevented?

Most oral health issues can be prevented simply through good oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing two or three times each day, limiting sugar intake, tobacco cessation, and using a fluoridated toothpaste are the easiest ways to prevent these issues.

Is there anything else you would like to address during Oral Health Month?

I would recommend that everyone find a dentist and visit them regularly to ensure that their oral health is maintained. A dental home is an important part of overall health. Brush and floss those teeth!