Boxing Day can be the busiest time of year for dentists who stay open over the summer holidays. This honour is attributed to a number of factors – some obvious, others less so.
Professor Tony Skapetis, Clinical Professor at the University of Sydney Dental School and Clinical Director of Education in Oral Health at Western Sydney Local Health District says these claims aren’t surprising for those in the know.
“Dentists who remain open over the holidays are kept busy because people have fewer dentists to choose from,” says Professor Skapetis. “But there are also risks associated with summer and the holiday period that people can look out for to avoid an emergency appointment over the holidays.”
Dental health issues are on the rise in Australia, with approximately 70,000 preventable hospitalisations due to dental health issues each year, with 25 precent being preventable, according to new analysis from researchers at the University of Sydney.
While there are some things you proactively do to maintain oral health year-round such as flossing and brushing your teeth, below is a run-down of some lesser-known risks that may be extra prevalent at this time of year.
Dental emergencies are, broadly speaking, anything causing substantial dental pain and an inability to eat. They usually consist of dental trauma (i.e. broken teeth due to hard or crunchy foods or external trauma due to accidents), dental infections which can result in facial swelling and uncontrolled bleeding from the mouth, usually after having a tooth extracted, says Professor Skapetis.
If you experience any of these symptoms or other pain or swelling at any time, it is safest to seek advice from your dentist or other health professional.
Our teeth probably aren’t what springs to mind when we put up Christmas decorations, but Professor Skapetis says hanging Christmas lights has been known to land people in the dental chair.
“People falling off roofs and ladders while putting up decorations are frequent visitors to the emergency department at this time of year, and almost 50 percent of facial trauma also has a dental component.”
To minimise the risk of an accident, make sure you have someone to help steady the ladder, or consider hanging Christmas decorations lower to the ground.
Food has always been a big contributor to cracked teeth, especially hard, chewy lollies, caramels and brittles, says Professor Skapetis.
Sweets aren’t the only culprits; summer staples with stony pits, like cherries and olives, are also potential hazards. Also watch out when biting into those lovely peaches, mangos, plums and apricots. Fruit is a healthier option as long as you don’t misjudge the pit.
“Broken teeth may be a consequence of overindulgence, especially in foods you may not normally eat . Beware of trying foods without knowing what's inside.”
Alcohol, and other substances consumed at parties, can also fuel accidents and traumatic dental injuries and are a big contributor to trips to the dentist year-round.
It’s a busy time of year, often with lots of photo opportunities. No-one wants to miss out on festivities or appear at them with the puffy cheeks that often ensue from a trip to the dentist.
However, Professor Skapetis warns it’s best to not delay regular or impromptu dentist appointments, especially during the silly season.
“People putting off that niggly tooth problem until after Christmas may have it play up and become a facial swelling as per Murphy's Law.”
Sensitivity, pain and inflammation of the teeth and gums can be a sign of infection which should be treated quickly. If left unchecked, infections can end up requiring more significant interventions such as a root canal therapy or tooth extraction, or it could spread to other parts of the body.
Dentists can have a long waitlist at the best of times, so some extra caution and awareness over the Christmas and New Year period could help you avoid an emergency appointment.
In the unfortunate event that you do come to grief over the festive season – be it cricket bat or food-induced - make sure you go easy on those injured teeth.
“If you do break a tooth, avoid extremely hot or cold foods and stick to a soft diet until you get a dental appointment,” says Professor Skapetis.
“If you can’t access a dental clinic over the holidays and suffer dental trauma from falls or accidents, especially if you are unable to close your back teeth properly, or experience uncontrolled bleeding from the mouth or facial swelling due to a dental infection, you should be seen urgently by a medical GP. Some practices have extended hours, or you may need to visit a hospital emergency department.”