I am a recent convert to motorcycles and ride a Harley Davidson. It is comfortable, a joy to ride and a conversation piece when I stop for coffee.
However, if you ride a Harley you learn that to keep the sparkle on all that chrome you must deal with the effects of rain, salt and road debris.
Regular washing, drying and polishing keeps a pristine appearance. Become lazy and spots will appear with rust and corrosion setting in and ruining the “in your face” appeal of the Harley.
Speaking of “in your face” the same lessons apply to looking after your teeth. If you fail to wash and clean them you can expect corrosion (dentists call this caries) to set in with altered appearance, holes and bits dropping off.
So what’s the relevance?
You may be asking why this is relevant for an offshore workforce. The answer is that “dental evacuations” (dentevac) are a very frequent occurrence.
The vast majority could be avoided by proper preventive dental care. Dentevacs are a cost in terms of lost man hours and the time and effort of logistics arranging transport and replacements.
Doesn’t an offshore medical cover teeth?
I hear you saying: “Ah but I have had an offshore medical and have been passed fit.”
In reality, the offshore examination is focused on identifying medical problems that might impact on safety offshore rather than dental health.
The doctor looks inside your mouth for medical signs or pointers to illness. It takes less than 20 seconds for the doctor to say: “Open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue and say Ahhh!”.
Does he learn anything about your dental health in this time? The answer is no, other than a general impression of your oral hygiene.
If your chrome (tooth enamel) has surface damage, holes and looks like a rust bucket or blown exhaust the doctor may ask you to see a dentist.
Dentistry is not part of the medical curriculum. A cursory look tells the doctor nothing about your dental fitness.
Remember, prevention is better than cure.
As well as the high cost to the industry from dentevacs there is the pain and suffering experienced by the patient. Toothache is not pleasant.
Warning: you may not be aware that dental emergencies do occur.
The offshore medical is not an MOT; it will not prevent you having a heart attack nor will it identify early cancers. It is about your fitness today to work offshore.
A dental check-up IS an MOT. The dentist can identify underlying problems likely to inflict pain if untreated.
Preventive maintenance is then undertaken to fix the problem and ensure you are dentally fit until the next check-up (service).
In the past, the industry required Dental Fit Certificates but this requirement lapsed. Given the cost of dentevacs and decreasing personal care of our teeth perhaps the time has come to re-instate dental certificates.
And the moral of the story is?
Ignore your teeth and, you guessed it, they will bite you in the rear. The message is to be like a Harley rider keeping your dental bodywork shiny and sparkling with no rust or corrosion.
Stay dentally fit.
Dr William Freeland is medical director, Medical Services, International SOS/Abermed