When I was a kid I would sometimes catch my mum vacuuming and dusting the already spotless house. When I asked what she was up to, she’d say she was “tidying up for the cleaner”. It’s still a family joke.
And yet that’s exactly what I did before my first visit to the dentist in almost a decade.
I brushed for exactly two and a half minutes (ja, I actually set a timer), I flossed, rinsed with mouthwash – and anxiously chewed on sugar-free gum I’d bought especially for the occasion on my walk over.
You might be wondering why I – an otherwise pretty together fortysomething professional – left it almost 10 years between dentist appointments. The truth is, I don’t really know. I have nice teeth – a particularly lovely top set, some might say. Perfectly straight and well-spaced, I look like the kind of person who wore braces as a child, even though I didn’t. The bottom set are less impressive – wonky and tightly spaced – but thankfully nobody really looks down there.
Admittedly, laziness played a part. Most women will admit that, from time to time, they go to bed with their makeup still on. But nobody wants to admit they go to bed without brushing their teeth. It’s disgusting. Unthinkable … and something I did pretty often at one point.
In recent years, I’ve brushed my teeth more often. But even a nice smile couldn’t hide the fact that I was spitting out blood in the foamy bubbles of my toothpaste. I ignored it for ages, telling myself that everyone’s gums bleed sometimes. No biggie.
But finally, there was no more hiding it. By 42, I was starting to feel long in the tooth. Literally. When I used my tongue to scan my teeth my gums felt alarmingly low, especially on the bottom.
A quick brush would usually make me feel better, but deep down I knew; you can spring clean all you want but if the floorboards are rotten there will be a collapse one day.
On the day of my appointment I took a deep, minty breath and told my dentist the full story. She was lovely. Firm but fair. “It’s a shame you haven’t looked after your teeth but let’s have a good look at what’s been going on in there – maybe it’s not as bad as you think it is," sy het gese. “I’ll give you a good deep clean and then get a real picture.”
I sat back in the chair, and she began the cleaning process with a water flosser and a gentle picker to scrape off any tartar. The sound was a little alarming but I kept telling myself: “It’s not a drill, it’s not a drill, you are not there yet!”
And it wasn’t painful, just cool. Swooshy. A mini pressure washer, like the ones you see your smug neighbours using on their cars in the summer. I closed my eyes and imagined my teeth as a dirty garden fence, being hosed down. It felt satisfying, less scary.
Halfway through the clean, my dentist stopped to show me a flaky piece of black gunk she had collected. I couldn’t believe it had come out of my mouth! It was like a speck from a dirty old charcoal grill.
“This is a special kind of plaque," sy het gese, wide-eyed with excitement. “You know the yellow bits of tartar they show you on the scary dentist posters? This is like that but it has oxidised and has blood in it so it’s black.”
She seemed genuinely delighted with her find. She was Indiana Jones and my mouth was the Temple of Doom.
“You have it at the base of your gums and also underneath your gums,” she explained. “You’ll need to deep clean for the next two weeks then come back so we can try to get the rest out.”
At the end of the checkup she sat me down to break the news. “You’ve got something called gingivitis,” she told me.
Not ideal, for sure. But gingivitis – more commonly known as gum disease – is reversible and doesn’t involve any drilling to fix, so I took it as a win.
She recommended a dental gel and tiny interdental cleaning brushes that look like little pipe cleaners to kickstart my new dental hygiene routine, and then brushing with Corsodyl toothpaste twice a day.
When I returned two weeks later for my follow-up, my lovely dentist was beside herself. “Your gums are lovely and pink now," sy het gese. “Oh I am so pleased – they have got stronger and we can clean underneath them now.”
And so she repeated the cycle of flossing and scraping and it didn’t hurt one bit. I was there willingly. I wanted that dirty old barbecue muck off my teeth and she got it all out. Now that’s something to smile about.
Healthy gums don’t bleed – if yours do, it’s time to take action. Brushing with Corsodyl toothpaste twice a day is clinically proven to help stop and prevent bleeding gums – so that’s one thing off your to-do list. To find out more, head to corsodyl.co.uk/products/toothpaste