11 July 2024

Where would be without a mouth? It’s a part of the body that really matters, not least because it allows us to eat and drink as well as speak and smile, yet it, or to be more precise, oral health,  all too often gets ignored. Bad dental care habits are the main culprits of poor oral health that in turn often leads to missing teeth and other health problems.

“Good oral hygiene habits are important at any age. They can keep the gums healthy and make the teeth last for longer. In particular, oral care is really important when people get older as it can affect their overall health and well-being as well as the quality of their lives,” said Dr Noppawan Pochanukul, dental specialist at the Department of Health’s Bureau of Dental Health, under the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH)in an exclusive interview with Thai PBS World.

For this reason, the MOPH has joined with state agencies to roll out a “Dentures and Implant Care” program to make teeth replacement more accessible for Thais of all ages who have lost their teeth. Aimed at providing denture care free of any charge to 72,000 people and implants for denture stabilization to 7,200, the program is intended to honor His Majesty KingRama X’s birthday celebration as he will turn 72 on July 28, 2024. The services are available from now through September 30, 2024.

“This time, we’ve decided to offer a dental implant service to secure dentures under this program in addition to dentures. This will allow people to enjoy the food they love and feel more confident about smiling again,” the dentist added.

She noted that some patients who wear dentures have struggled with them. Others find them annoying when they begin to get loose, particularly the ones on their lower jaw, making wearing them uncomfortable.

“Some of the wearers said they feel awkward when speaking and eating in front of others. They are worried that the dentures might slip and that they might even fall out when they smile and laugh. That’s embarrassing,” she said.

The Denture and Implant Care program was created through a collaboration between the MOPH, the Department of Health, the National Health Security Office (NHSO), the Department of Medical Services, the Dental Innovation Foundation Under Royal Patronage, the Social Security Office (SSO) and the Comptroller General’s Department.

The program is a spin-off of the “Denture Project” which was initiated in 2005 in response to the initiative of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, who was deeply concerned for his people’s oral and dental health. The denture project provided full-mouth dentures for people in need, particularly seniors, to allow them to chew better and have an enhanced quality of life.

The late King once remarked on a visit to the provinces: “Having missing teeth makes it difficult to eat and enjoy the foods you love. It affects the physical and mental well-being.”

A survey by the Department of Health showed that Thai adults aged between 60 and 74 years have an average of 18 natural teeth remaining in their mouths. And the number of teeth reduces to 10 when they reach 80-85. About 8.7% of Thai seniors have lost all of their teeth, and that greatly affects the quality of their lives.

Dr Athaporn Limpanylers, NHSO’s deputy secretary general, said his agency is well aware of the impacts of tooth loss amongst Thai people, particularly the elderly, and has continuously participated in the royal projects to provide them with dentures. Since 2005, he adds, around 720,000 individuals have received denture care treatment.

“With the access to the denture and implant care we’re providing, we hope that people who receive the services would enjoy better health and life,” he said.

He noted that the denture care service is aimed at 72,000 people from all walks of life over the next two years. The implant service for denture stabilization is being offered free of charge under NHSO’s universal health scheme or the so-called 30-baht healthcare scheme, targeting 7,200 cases.

Around 190 hospitals and dental clinics in all provinces are ready to give dental implant treatment service.

The provision of dentures has been covered under the healthcare schemes since 2008 for Thais of all ages. Those under the universal health scheme, those employed in the public sector by a government department and others who have registered with the SSO are eligible for a set of dentures.

Latchana Kongdee, 50, was worried about opening her mouth when she smiled because of her bad teeth. She underwent a dental implant and found it comfortable. The implant also improved the appearance of her teeth and boosted her self-confidence.

“I’m super happy with my dental implant. It enables me to eat with ease and also looks natural. Now, I’m able to give a big smile showing my teeth for photos.” she said with a grin.

Ms Latchana supports the royal dental projects, saying the services can breathe new life into seniors and make them more confident.

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Healthy teeth, healthy you

Although teeth replacement is on offer, it’s best to maintain good mouth and tooth care to help avoid tooth loss, painful gums and other problems.

Aging can affect oral health, Dr Noppawan noted.

“When we age, we tend to face more dental and oral health problems. Older adults are more at risk of dry mouth and gum diseases, which can cause tooth loss,” she said, adding that many older adults with certain health problems are taking medications to treat high blood pressure which can cause dry mouth.

The health of your mouth is also related to the health of the rest of your body, she notes, adding that people with diabetes who don’t control their blood sugar well are more likely to have gum disease. In turn, having gum disease would make their blood sugar level harder to control.

“If you are living with diabetes, you may need to pay more attention to your mouth and visit a dental clinic regularly to have it checked by a dentist,” Dr Noppawan said.

To help keep your mouth healthy and strong for your golden years, the dentist advises “quality” brushing of the teeth and proper use of toothbrushes.

“Many people don’t do it the right way. And that means the teeth are not cleaned properly,” she said.

She suggested brushing the teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day every day for at least two minutes. For a toothbrush, people should use one with a compact head that allows them to reach all of their teeth while brushing.

“It would be better if you could brush your teeth after every meal to keep them healthy,” she said.

She also advised avoiding tobacco use, saying smokers are more susceptible to the development of gum diseases, which can attack roots and cause teeth to fall out.

Making a regular dental visit is of equal importance, Dr Noppawan noted, saying most people go to a dental clinic only when they have toothache.

She recommended going at least once a year and having dental and oral health checked by a dentist to see whether you may have problems.

“Most oral health problems are preventable and can be fixed in the early stages. Always keep your mouth and teeth healthy. Caring for your oral health is an investment in your overall health.” Dr. Noppawan said.

By Veena Thoopkrajae