Hugh Flax was inspired to become a dentist while a senior in high school by watching the transformation in life of his mother, France Flax, after a year of dental work. His family had just moved from Massachusetts to North Miami Beach when she completed 12 months of treatment with the family dentist, George Brooks.
“When it was done,” Dr. Flax said recently, “she just glowed. I told myself that if I can help slay the ‘dragons of fear’ like she went through and help people get better, that was the right place for me.”
In his new book published last year “A Smile is Always in Style,” the internationally known specialist in cosmetic dentistry describes his mother’s experience and the effect it had on him. For the first time in her life, his mother could smile and eat with confidence. What Dr. Flax saw then still inspires him almost 50 years later.
“All these years,” he writes, “I’ve wanted patients to not only have a beautiful and believable smile, but also to bring joy to everyone by having them always love their appearance and how healthy their mouth feels.”
Flax is a past president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and a founder of the Georgia Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He not only believes, as he comments in his book, that “a great smile is the window to the soul,” but that a healthy mouth can transform our lives.
According to an independent study by the AACD, a great smile projects more confidence, makes an individual more approachable and even sexier, and helps to create higher self-esteem. Over the years, he’s come to think of himself as more than just someone who cares for teeth, but as a “physician of the mouth,” he said.
“In the early 90s, I realized that all these different parts of the mouth actually integrated with each other. And so, the bite affected the shapes of the teeth; the gums affected the stability, the teeth and all those things.”
While much of his book is devoted to a discussion of recent advances in improving the look and feel of our teeth, he also devotes a chapter to the relationship between oral health and general well being.
As the Mayo Clinic described in a 2018 report, there’s a strong connection between oral inflammation and infection and other health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and even fetal gestation. The Mayo report went on to say that those who suffered from periodontal or gum disease were up to 40 percent more likely to have a chronic condition.
The National Institutes of Health reports that these conditions may be prevented in part by regular visits to a dentist. In 2007, however, less than half of all Americans over the age of 2 visited the dentist in the preceding year. It is a statistic that has remained, according to the NIH, essentially unchanged over the past decade.
This fall, the U.S. Surgeon General is planning to release a comprehensive report on oral health in America, the first such report since the initial Surgeon General’s national assessment in 2000.
As evidence of the link between a healthy mouth and a healthy body has increased, the new report will seek to describe how successful America has been in increasing dental and oral care. According to preliminary work, the report will seek to identify challenges and opportunities that have emerged since the publication of the first report and articulate a vision for the future. It is also expected to emphasize poor oral health as a public health issue.
“Good oral health,” as the NIH puts it, “allows a person to speak, taste, touch, chew, swallow and make facial expressions to show feelings and emotion. Poor oral health has serious consequences.”
Here in Georgia, the state was ranked in the top 20 for best overall dental health last month by WalletHub. Georgia was rated 18th on the list.
Dr. Flax likens all the factors that go into making up good oral health to the colored squares on a Rubik’s Cube. The challenge with the cube is to line up all the colors and get them to match. Good oral health, he believes works in a similar way.
“Each side of the Rubik’s Cube,” he believes, “correlates to their medical history, their habits, the strength of their bones, the strength of their teeth and the way their bite fits together. If we get all those pieces to match and fit, like solving a Rubik’s Cube, we can get long-term results that improve their oral and their physical health.”