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Ask the Dentist: Having a hospital operation? Get your teeth checked

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says good oral health can help reduce the chances of infection after surgery

Ensuring a clean bill of health in your mouth can help reduce the risk of complications due to loose crowns or fillings under anaesthesia as well as cut post-op infection risk

ARE you dentally fit for your operation? Perhaps you have been on a waiting list to have your hip replacement, cancer therapy or heart surgery and the appointment has just come through. At your pre-surgery assessment it's very common for the hospital to request a dental check-up to maximise the success of your treatment.

One of the things that the hospital wants to know is if there are any loose teeth, crowns or dentures that may become dislodged when the breathing tube is inserted during general anaesthesia.

The other concern is if there are any mouth infections that could cause trouble in the rest of the body. If your gums are infected or you have a tooth abscess, the bacteria can enter your bloodstream. This is particularly significant if you are having a new heart valve or getting a prosthetic joint. The heart is at risk of developing bacterial endocarditis which is a rare but potentially serious condition in which the lining of the heart becomes infected and it can stop the heart from working properly.

Similarly with artificial joints, although the chance that the new joint gets infected is very low, it's a challenging situation when it does happen.

Keeping your teeth and gums in maximum health before, during and after cancer treatment can not only reduce your chance of getting a complication, it can also make your day-to-day life better and even mean that you are able to complete all the necessary treatment.

It's quite common for a patients to feel that their mouth is completely fine. However, there are many mouth infections that can be present without giving any symptoms. For example, gum disease only gets painful in the very end stages and you can have a tooth abscess the size of a ping pong ball in your jaw bone that's painless. So its important that the dentist examines your teeth and takes X-rays to ascertain if there is any underlying disease.

This pre-surgery dental check comes as a surprise to some people and may even cause anxiety in others who have a fear of the dentist. So try to schedule your dental check up well in advance of any hospital treatment. This will give you time to find a dentist that you are comfortable with and complete the dental treatment to get rid of gum disease, fix existing tooth decay and eliminate any abscesses.

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