“I am extremely worried by the state of children’s teeth in this country,” says Saul Konviser, a general dentist who works in an NHS practice in Watford and a private practice in Marylebone.
“I see a large number of children who require not just a simple filling, but multiple fillings or extractions. They often arrive with severe dental infections and swollen faces, needing antibiotics or even sedation or a general anaesthetic. It is bordering on dental neglect and, what is worse, it is almost completely avoidable.”
Extracting baby teeth is the worst part of his job, says Dr Konviser, who studied Physiology and Pharmacology at Bristol UWE, followed by a masters in International Health Policy at the London School of Economics before training to be a dentist. “Not only is it upsetting, but it is also incredibly frustrating, as often you feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall and change won’t happen.” Despite this, Dr Konviser’s days are always different as a general dentist, which he enjoys. Today, the 36-year-old is scheduled to do a routine check-up on a child and a root canal on an adult.
Few patients realise he is not just assessing their teeth, but their overall health. “A patient who comes in with arthritis may lack the ability to hold a toothbrush and so is more at risk of poor oral health such as gum disease. And gum disease is linked to respiratory and heart disease. “A young student might have nutritional deficiencies resulting in recurrent ulceration in their mouth, or sores and swellings causing constant discomfort. Or a child with learning difficulties is likely to have problems co-operating in the dental chair.
They may need to see a specialist or even have treatment under sedation.” Dr Konviser’s father is an orthodontist. He felt informed, but not pressured, to follow in his footsteps. He is also a trustee for a charity, the Dental Wellness Trust, which provides children with dental treatment, supervised tooth-brushing programmes and oral healthcare education both in the UK and overseas.
“We recently noticed that Luton has one of the worst childhood decay rates in the UK in under-fives, so initially we began to focus on this area. Since starting in March 2018, we are now reaching more than 1,500 children daily in schools in Luton.”
Dentistry is a field that encourages oversharing. “When people find out I am a dentist, they often begin to tell me either about a horrific experience they have had or about a current problem and ask for an opinion.
“I often joke with them that if I was a colorectal surgeon, would they be so open with me at the first meeting? “In all seriousness, though, most people hate the dentist so I’m more than happy to talk with people and help them if it reassures them and gets them to attend the dentist.” How does he deal with patients who are afraid? “It is about being empathetic,” he says.
“Remaining calm and relaxed myself is incredibly important, because patients can pick up when you get frustrated.” The dental surgery is a serious place, but things don’t always go to plan.
“Recently I was extracting a tooth and as I applied the forceps to remove the tooth, it was so loose already that it literally popped out of the patient’s mouth, flew across the room and landed in his bag.”
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