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Tooth Decay

01 Feb 2017

Each week Dr Larry Benge discusses dental health with Steve Price. In this interview Dr Benge reveals Australia’s most common health condition – tooth decay.

Steve Price Interviewer: Dr Larry joins us, evening to you

Dr Larry Benge: How are you Steve?

Steve Price Interviewer: Your Greater Western Giants didn’t too well at the weekend mate?

Dr Larry Benge: No, no, I spoke to Ross Lion and I told them to go easy.

Steve Price Interviewer: It didn’t work.

Dr Larry Benge: No, they were having a training run…I think.

Steve Price Interviewer: Yes, it was a bit sad but, nevertheless they have had a better season than most people would have expected. And of course the great Kevin Sheedy who I know is a client and a supporter of yours – has three more coaching games to go in his illustrious career. What a great man he’s been.

Dr Larry Benge: I noticed he’s also winding up Ross, did you happen to see the interview?

Steve Price Interviewer: Yes I did.

Dr Larry Benge: It was very funny.

Steve Price Interviewer: As only Kevin could do.

Dr Larry Benge: Exactly.

Steve Price Interviewer: What’s the most common health condition in Australia? Surely it’s got to be, if someone asked you to answer that question blind and I hadn’t seen any of the answers I would have thought heart disease.

Dr Larry Benge: Yeah, you would have -wouldn’t you. If someone told you it was tooth decay you would think they were mad, wouldn’t you?

Steve Price Interviewer: I would never call you mad Larry! But is that what your telling me?

Dr Larry Benge: Yes it is – it’s amazing isn’t it? It actually comes from the Public of Health Association of Australia.  They say that more people are affected by tooth decay and tooth problems then they are of heart problems. Obviously they don’t have the same repercussions but they can still be quite severe.

Steve Price Interviewer: So the reason that we don’t have discussions about this being the biggest health problem is that you can’t drop dead from a bad tooth, presumably.

Dr Larry Benge: No, absolutely – although you know you can have some serious infections, it depends you know. Most people if they get infections in their teeth have if they want pretty available access to dental care. Imagine if you actually didn’t have access to dental care quite as easily as we are fortunate enough to have in Australia. Maybe even in some rural areas where you are not able to get to a dentist and some infections can be quite serious from teeth, you can actually get fairly severe facial swelling. If you particularly get infections from lower teeth it can actually go into the floor of the mouth or anywhere there – it can actually be quite serious. So as time has gone by some of those things that we take for granted that you can pop off to the dentist to get fixed, if they are not looked after can become quite serious in themselves.

Steve Price Interviewer: I would imagine access to dental care as you say rural or remote Australia particularly among the indigenous Australian’s would be pretty poor? And there must be some pretty bad examples of what a lack of complete dental hygiene does for somebody’s life.

Dr Larry Benge: Exactly, you know you think of things like dental hygiene and you think oh well it’s just related to the teeth but it’s actually, mouth infections spread to other areas of the body particularly you know you can get blood infections, you can get septicemia and there’s no doubt that we’ve discussed previously that in South Australia in the university there – have done a lot of research and proven that actually there is a really strong correlation between heart disease and periodontal disease. So someone can be going along, as you know periodontal disease is a really a non-painful sort of disease in fact it masks the smoking, in people smoking masks a lot of the disease so it can actually be causing problems without you actually realising it, which then flow onto people which cardiac issues.

Steve Price Interviewer: One of the things I haven’t thought of if you obviously have neglected your dental health, your teeth have fallen out or are discoloured, you’ve got dreadfully bad breath it could mean that you don’t get work, you don’t get employment – that could lead to depression, because that could have a compounding effect.

Dr Larry Benge: Yeah absolutely and I’ve seen it in my practice where people have come in, particularly with All-on-4 system where people are really at the terminal stage of their teeth, where that’s lost teeth, your right they don’t go out, they socially they stay at home, they are embarrassed by it and as you say when your looking for people to employ these days unfortunately there is a great emphasis on the way we look, then particlularly if you’ve got bad teeth then it could lead to depression.

Steve Price Interviewer: And the other thing is your diet, I guess if you’ve got a crooked set of choppers and you can’t eat properly there would be some foods you simply can’t consume.

Dr Larry Benge: Yep, no doubt.  I have patients regularly come in and they might be talking about a certain type of treatment and I say look you know if your doing this type of treatment putting implants in you actually have to be on fairly soft diet after the implants go in to allow them to fuse to the bone, and they say look that’s what my diet is anyway. So they’re not actually eating the hard foods, we restrict them on for the first couple of months

Steve Price Interviewer: Well that’s really ah…does the GP then give enough people decent advice about what they should be doing if they are presenting regularly with bad dental health?

Dr Larry Benge: Well, look I think for sure – that’s an area that could do with some improvement, doctors as such in general, obviously I cannot make generalisations, know a lot about the mouth and the implications and equally your patients don’t say a lot, you know about their mouth that might have an effect on the rest of their body, so it is a two way sort of thing, but it would be much better if they did know and were informed of the possible repercussions that dental health can have on the body.

Steve Price Interviewer: I know they have done a lot of lobbying on this but it does seem ridiculous that dental health is treated completely differently to all other facets of health when it comes to things like Medicare.

Dr Larry Benge: Yeah well look I think it is related to budget, isn’t it? Really. That’s really the issue and I think as we’ve discussed before the levy they charge just on medical things – you mentioned what the levy would be if you had to contribute that to dental health as well. Obviously it would be great for people, I think the amount of people it would actually get treatment, but I don’t think we could afford it.

Steve Price Interviewer: Well we get a lot of our callers who call us on a regular basis who say they simply can’t get treated in the public system, the waiting lists are years long, years long!

Dr Larry Benge: Absolutely it’s true. I’ve had people present and they need interim sort of treatment, they go in and might have a tooth taken out at the dental hospital and then they will be eligible to be put on a waiting list and really for any sort of sophisticated work, other than an extraction or a basic filling it can take absolutely years and they get sick and tired of being on the waiting list to be honest.

Steve Price Interviewer: Dreadful stuff, Larry thanks a lot talk to you next week.

Dr Larry Benge: No problem, thanks Steve have a good night.

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