With her fabulous red suit and leopard print shirt and braided hair, Dr Uchenna Okoye is that rarest of people (you could say as rare as hens teeth, but obviously I won’t) – a warm, non-scary dentist. She is the official dentist for the television show Ten Years Younger and Clinical Director of the London Smiling Dental Group. A cosmetic dentist trailblazer who wants to make dentistry something that we consider as part of our normal beauty process, rather than something alarming that has to be endured only when there’s a problem.
She’s also all about menopause dentistry. Yes, there is such a thing, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Your ageing teeth
We are meeting for coffee and a sobering reality check. “The older you get, the darker your teeth become” she says. Years of drinking coffee or smoking are bound to show on your teeth”. And tea, it seems is even worse, even green and herbal tea, because of the tannins in it.
There is good news though, because it turns out that having bad teeth is not necessarily genetically inherited. Rather Dr Uchenna sees it as a warning, a prompt to pay attention and take good care of your teeth. Although the less good news is that recent findings have shown that gum disease and plaque are linked to dementia, heart disease and other conditions including rheumatoid arthritis. All the more reason, then, to put tooth health and dental care on your daily to do list.
Making a visit to the dentist like going to a spa
Part of Dr Uchenna’s mission is to make that a more enjoyable experience. “I’m such a phobic myself,” she admits. “I want to make coming to the dentist more like coming to a spa. So I’m trying to make it more experiential – there’s music and aromatherapy candles while you have your check-up. You also have a paraffin wax and a hand massage, so you remember how lovely and soft your hands feel which hopefully takes away from the negativity that surrounds a visit to the dentist” And then, of course, there’s the results of the treatments – brighter, whiter teeth. “Anything that makes your teeth whiter will make you look younger – and give you more confidence” she says.
Following a treatment, Dr Uchenna recommends using the London Smiling Group’s MySmile whitening toothpaste, which not only removes stains “it nourishes your mouth and creates the brilliant smile. It’s preservative-free and has a natural peppermint flavour and the silica that exfoliates and polishes and cleanses all at the same time”. It’s all another part of Dr Uchenna’s teeth-as-part-of-your-beauty-regime revolution “While you’re using the toothpaste, your mouth is getting healthier and you are getting rid of plaque which is the main cause of gum disease.” Then there’s a teeth whitening pen which you apply before before you eat in order to adjust the pH balance and avoid teeth damaging stains and in the evening as a whitening treatment, “because, at night, you produce less saliva and it doesn’t wash it away” she explains.
How the menopause affects your teeth
Paying this kind of attention to dental care becomes all the more important as you age because as Dr Uchenna describes “your teeth move as you get older and collagen starts decreasing. Women in peri-menopause need to start preparing for the hormonal changes that affect their mouth and teeth. In the same way your vagina becomes more dry, the same thing happens in your mouth.“
Is this menopausal related teeth movement the reason so many of my 50-something year old friends start to get ugly braces? “The menopause brace is definitely a thing,” she confirms. “People have to hold their bone in place and a brace is like a tooth corset. 90% of all the braces I do are for menopausal women, the rest are pre-pubescent children. In both cases it’s to do with hormonal changes that are happening in the body. People don’t realise how much of what happens with your hormones affects your mouth and your teeth.
I do invisible braces that you can take out, though,” she says. “They’re called Invisalign and you can put them on and take them off yourself. The idea is that you wear your brace for 22 hours a day and take it out to eat. Celebrities like them because they can take them off for an event. They take anything from three months to a year to work, depending on how challenging the situation is. You get a new one fitted every week or so. They start off like a new bra – really tight, then get looser. We measure the movement and make any necessary adjustments.”
Why the dental profession needs to change
I put it to her that perhaps this generation of menopausal women are more afraid of the dentist than younger ones because they grew up getting loads of fillings. In the days where there were national health dentists and they used to get paid by the filling, they would do them with far more abandon than happens now.
Also, it seems to me that there are so many more male dentists than female ones. Although the balance was pretty much 50/50 when she was at dental school, Dr Uchenna puts this down to being “to do with the challenges of having children and running their own business. A lot of business and connections between men happen at the bar after work, when women would rather be with kids or at home asleep. So I do think women are pushed out of dentistry because it is difficult running your own business and managing people” (Dr Uchenna has around 10 people working for her.) She concedes “it is very frustrating because it is a male-dominated area, and perhaps that’s why fear of the dentist is maintained. There are fewer women at the top. And even fewer women of colour”.
Dr Uchenna is on a mission to change that, as well as the approach to and attitudes towards dentistry. And if anyone can turn our anxieties about a visit to the dentist into something we look forward to and even enjoy, this warm, charming, powerhouse of a woman is undoubtedly the person to do it.
Find out about London Smiling Dental Group treatments and products HERE
By Chrissy Iley