Recently I had to deal with a tooth pain so I looked up a dentist in the area and made an appointment. Like most people, I dread going to see the dentist and that is a shame.
Thankfully, my original problem was not too far gone but after my initial examination, the dentist realized that I had better schedule myself in for basic teeth cleaning and a further examination.
I am a terrible dental patient and it had been several years since my last visit for a checkup. I had wrongly assumed that by brushing regularly and occasionally flossing my teeth, this would be enough to maintain my oral health. Thankfully during this visit to my dentist I was given a good education on tooth care. I discovered that it was not merely my white teeth I had to worry about but also as important are the condition of the soft pink gums that hold everything together.
The doctor used the analogy that a tooth is similar to a fence post resting on hardened and packed earth. The gums of the mouth act as the earth surrounding the post. When the gums become affected by the brown solid buildup around the base of the tooth, this is actually bacteria that causes weakness. Slowly this weakening drifts deeper and deeper into the gum until it reaches the base of the tooth. At this point, serious problems start to occur with a person’s oral health. As the bacteria move down the tooth, it is no longer being held on solid ground. To continue the analogy, the fence post is now being held by soft weak earth and the wooden pole is now free to move around as it no longer has support. If this kind of a condition is not caught in the early stages then it can lead to a loss of teeth on a grand scale.
Everyone has a bit of a phobia when it comes to seeing the dentist. I believe that First Nation people from remote communities have more exaggerated dentist phobias. For most First Nations there is no on site, local dentist. We have to rely on visiting dentist tours. I recall most of my visits to the dentist when I was a child back in Attawapiskat as intense to say the least. Due to the fact that we had never had the convenience of a dentist in the community we only received care occasionally and mostly in a situation that was critical. I don’t remember getting any kind of education that had to do with preventative maintenance and any real knowledge of how important to my health my teeth were. We all saw dentists from a more or less last resort emergency situation that only had to do with pain. As a matter of fact the Cree world for dentist is Kah-mee-nah-pee-teh-pee-chee-keh-t, ‘the one who pulls teeth out.’
As children, we grew up with an older generation that never understood fully how to maintain good oral health. Our parents and grandparents subsisted on wild food with very few processed foods or sugars in their diet. This meant that most of my elders had fairly healthy teeth for much of their lives. With the arrival of the Europeans many things changed including our diet and the introduction of new foods including sugar. More processed foods and lots of sugar made it into our regular diet. As a child, I can remember craving hard candies, chips, pop and chocolate bars. I begged my parents for these treats as often as I could. Fortunately for me, our family was not always able to afford these luxuries and most of the time I had to go without. However, the added sugar in my diet and poor tooth care on my part meant that by the time I became a teenager any visits I had to the dentist were critical and resulted in tooth pulling and fillings.
When the dentist visited our First Nation, people lined up with all types of dire tooth problems. To be fair most of the time people were treated on their degree of seriousness. The worst affected were the ones treated first. I can remember sitting in the waiting room as a child for hours surrounded by many other nervous and anxious community members. Appointments always ran late and we had to endure sitting there listening to moaning and sometimes screaming patients as we waited for our turn.
By the time I made it to the big reclining dentist’s chair I was a nervous mess and ready to scream at the slightest touch of any instrument put into my mouth. Then things went very rapidly and the next thing you know I was back out on my way home with tears in my eyes and a frozen tongue and mouth. The fact that an expert who was educated in tooth care had helped me out was lost on my pain and anxious state.
Thanks to Dr. Vos and his team of professionals in Brantford, Ontario, I now have a better idea of what tooth care is really all about. I have an improved understanding of what I must do to maintain my teeth and in general I feel better about visiting the dentist office. When I am in the south I find it very easy to receive dental care and I can choose from so many doctors. However, I am saddened that dental care is still not available to most remote First Nations in the north on a full time basis. There is no doubt that my people suffer because they don’t have easy access to dental care and that makes life all the more difficult. One thing for sure at this point is that I intend to take better care of my teeth and to see my dentist regularly over the year. I want to live a long life with a good bite in it.
By Xavier Kataquapit
For more columns by Xavier Kataquapit visit www.underthenorthernsky.co