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Planning Retirement Online

How Olive`s dentist solved a mystery


Olive Braman tells a cautionary tale about bad breath 

I am normally happy to visit my dentist because I seldom need treatment and am accustomed to congratulations on my strong teeth and excellent dental hygiene. However last year this happy record was shattered when I popped into a highly recommended dental surgery in Spain, when I was staying in our holiday home, to have a chipped tooth checked.

I had no discomfort or swelling but I thought it would be sensible to deal with it. The news was not good. The dentist told me that I had an acute gum infection, which was oozing pus. 


And the really bad news was that this was not only in the chipped tooth but also in its partner on the opposite side. He told me that the smell was appalling and expressed amazement that my face was not hugely swollen. Glumly I accepted his advice that both teeth should be removed and that I needed a course of antibiotics.

Several uncomfortable visits later and hundreds of pounds poorer, the work was completed. I had as a souvenir one disgusting looking tooth (the other disintegrated as it was being heaved out), but was relieved to be rid of the vile things.

Over the next few months I began to realise that it was not only the teeth and the infected gums that had gone. I was no longer troubled by the acute intermittent skin rashes which had plagued me for years and my husband informed me that my breath no longer smelled like cow pats. I came to the conclusion that my gum infection was not of recent origin but that, in all probability, it was very long standing.

When the symptoms started

I first visited my GP at least eight years ago with itchy skin rashes, which kept me awake at night. Nothing appeared to cure them although some creams did ameliorate the itching. I was about to accept the GP’s suggestion that he prescribe steroids the next time the rash appeared. There was no discernible pattern that I could ascertain, although I had realised that I should never drink red wine if I had even the merest suggestion of a rash, as my skin would react immediately and burn as if it was on fire.

As a last resort I visited a naturopath who told me that the rash was caused by eating cheese and chocolate. I was told to avoid them both, take vitamin C and drink lots of water. This seemed to help and I was reluctant to take steroids so mostly I avoided the banned foods and when the rash returned I attributed it to lapses in my diet.

I do not remember when it was that my husband first informed me that my mouth smelled like a sewer. I do know that I asked both my dentist and doctor about it.

The dentist said, “Oh, people always think that bad breath is caused by the teeth and it seldom is.” The GP said I should take care with my dental hygiene and use a mouthwash. My husband continued to complain and I concluded that perhaps halitosis was simply something that came with age and I should avoid breathing on people and chew lots of sugar free gum.

Where the problems can show up

I read recently that there is a growing body of evidence showing that gum infections can cause problems, not just in the mouth, but also elsewhere in the body. Several studies have now linked gum disease to an increased risk of heart disease as well as a raised risk of inflammatory lung conditions.

When I returned to England, I visited my dentist and suggested that they had been negligent in my treatment. Had they taken my query about halitosis seriously and x-rayed my teeth, they would have found the cracked teeth and infected gums some time ago.

My dentist could not remember my query and there was no note of it. He said that the NHS discourages overuse of X-rays unless there is an indication that something is wrong. However he did agree that there seemed to have been some failure in their systems, and that there were indications of gingivitis. My teeth were not in the perfect condition which his colleague, who is no longer working for the practice, said they were.

He passed my complaint on to an independent clinical assessor who said that while the screening examination did not detect significant peridontal problems, it would have been wise to undertake a full pocket chart “given the presence of subgingival scale.”

My dentist says that the screening may have been carried out correctly and the “pocket” was not present, or that the screen was not fully carried out and the “pocket” remained undetected. I suspect the latter but, given the passage of time, and in the absence of the dentist who carried out the examinations, I will never know for certain.

You have to be persistent

But there are some lessons to be learned. Dentists should not accept the patient’s statement that they have no problems with their teeth or gums as some, like mine, produce no obvious symptoms. They should also take seriously indications of halitosis. If patients have a persistent problem, as I did, they should be prepared to be a nuisance by persisting with their queries.


I would love to ascertain for how long my gums were infected and pus was poisoning my system and I do wonder if I am likely to suffer any long- term ill effects.  For the moment, I am fine, relieved to know that the problem is solved. I’m just passing the story on in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation.



laterlife interest

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