The Importance of Regular Dental Care
We’ve all heard the mantra throughout our lifetimes that, in order to have a healthy set of teeth, we need to brush twice daily for two minutes at a time. But how many of us can honestly say we maintain a consistent schedule of brushing?
An unofficial poll conducted by Yahoo showed that almost half of men only brush once a day for an average of 30 seconds and that the number is even higher for women. Add daily flossing and regular dentist visits into the mix and the number of people observing proper oral hygiene drops even lower.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a quarter of Americans have some form of untreated tooth decay and almost half of adults over the age of 30 are dealing with various levels of gum disease; the majority caused by insufficient oral care. The Surgeon General calls is a “silent epidemic” and yet, the answer to the problem is right in front of us. So why do we have such a difficult time heeding the expert’s advice?
Why Regular Dental Care is so Important
People can always come up with a handful of reasons why they don’t practice proper dental care. Typical justifications range from not enough interest to not enough time to not enough money. However, when compared with the inherent risks of not taking care of your teeth, the small investment of time and money that proper care takes will far outweigh the alternative. So what are some of the risks involved with a lack of regular dental care?
- A Not-So-Pretty-Smile – This first one is somewhat self-explanatory. If you want a white gleaming smile, it’s important to brush and floss your teeth properly. Not properly brushing will cause plaque buildup and create an unsightly yellow coating across the surface of your teeth. Your breath won’t be benefitting from the lack of brushing either.
- Tooth Loss – Tooth loss is a common result of improper oral care. On average, by the ages of 35-44, 69% of people have lost at least one permanent tooth to decay and by the age of 50, that number increases to twelve (this number includes wisdom teeth). The loss of a permanent tooth not only affects your smile but can also increase your risk for bone loss as well as depression and anxiety.
- Gum Disease – While minor gingivitis is a common nuisance that can be reversed with proper oral care, severe gum disease isn’t as easy to fix and can have a major effect on your overall health. Several recent studies have tied poor gum care to everything from diabetes to heart disease.
- Bone Loss – When gum disease becomes serious, it can open pockets of space for bacteria to infect the bones holding your teeth. This not only results in tooth loss but can also affect the overall function of your jaw bone.
- Cancer and Other Major Issues – Serious health issues don’t always need to become serious. If you make a visit to your dentist every six months, it becomes much easier for your health to be tracked and for small problems to be found before they become major saving both your pocketbook and your overall health.
The Cost of Improper Care
While we’re typically aware of the potential health issues that arise from improper dental care, we don’t always consider the associated costs that go along with them. Just to put price into perspective, let’s take a look at the costs of some common dental procedures starting with the most affordable option; preventable care.
- Standard Teeth Cleaning – Considered preventable care, standard teeth cleanings should be done every six months. Dentists will typically take X-Rays once a year during these appointments to ensure that there aren’t any cavities beneath the surface that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Cost without insurance averages around $127 and is typically covered 100% by dental insurance plans.
- Composite Tooth Filling – Sometimes, even when you do your best to take care of your teeth, your dentist will find a cavity that needs to be filled. When this happens he will schedule you a time to come back and have the cavity removed. The cost to have a filling is usually covered 50%-80% by standard dental insurance and averages around $204 if you don’t carry insurance.
- Tooth Removal – Teeth sometimes need to be removed by a dentist. There are a number of reasons why a tooth might need to be removed ranging from impaction (a wisdom tooth for example) to decay. If you have a diseased tooth that needs to come out, plan to spend an average of $416 when covered by insurance and upwards of $750 if you’re paying out of pocket.
- Root Canal – If a cavity is left untreated, decay can worsen and eventually a root canal may be necessary. A root canal procedure involves the removal of the nerve and pulp within the tooth. The tooth is then cleaned and resealed to prevent further infection from occurring. With insurance, a root canal will run you an average of $608 for a front tooth and $333 for a back tooth. Without insurance, those numbers jump to an average of $1,156 for a front tooth and $957 for a back tooth.
- Dental Crown – Crowns are another treatment that is typically used when decay becomes severe. If there is a large portion of the tooth that is decayed, the dentist will fit a porcelain cap over the top of the tooth and glue it on to the existing tooth in order to restore stability and use of the affected tooth. The cost for a crown that is covered by dental insurance will average $618 while the cost without insurance tops off around $1093.
Upon looking at the procedures above, it quickly becomes clear that the most affordable option is preventable care. And while regular brushing and dental visits don’t necessarily immunize you from potential oral issues, they certainly allow the doctor to catch a small problem and fix it before it turns into a major investment and a potential health issue.
Benefits of Proper Oral Care
So now that we better understand the cost and consequences of poor oral care, let’s examine some of the benefits of maintaining proper oral care.
Early Detection – It may seem like all the dentist does when you visit is poke you with sharp objects around your mouth and power clean your teeth. You may be surprised to learn, however, that it is quite the opposite. During a regular dental visit, in addition to cleaning your teeth, the dentist is performing a number of tasks including but not necessarily limited to:
- Checking your gums for any deep gaps or infected areas. This could be an indication of early-stage gum disease, which if caught in time, is completely reversible.
- Checking for cavities. Your dentist will do a thorough examination of your teeth, including x-rays once a year, to determine whether cavities are present in any of your teeth. Even though fillings are not much fun, they are a better alternative (and much more cost-effective!) than having to suffer through a root canal or crown if not properly taken care of in time.
- Monitor and clean any residual plaque and tartar. Tartar is a hard substance that is formed from hardened plaque and can cause tooth decay if left untreated. Once plaque becomes tartar, it can’t be removed from brushing and flossing. Only your dentist can remove it using special tools to chip it away from the surface of your teeth.
- Performing preventative exams for oral cancer. Every time you come in for your preventative visit, your dentist will check your face, neck, tongue, and throat for abnormalities that could potentially be the early stages of oral cancer. When caught early, success rates dramatically increase.
Proper Oral Care in Children
While consistent oral care is important in adults, it is especially important in children. Because children are still developing not only their teeth but their bodies and brains as well, poor dental care can have serious effects beyond just the inside of their mouths. Some of the effects of poor oral care in children include but are not limited to:
- Oral Pain and Discomfort (Eating can be affected)
- Increased Chances of Illness
- Higher instances of insomnia
- Higher rates of admission to the hospital
Children with poor oral health habits are also at a higher risk for more serious issues such as impaired cognitive development, chronic medical conditions and various psychosocial issues such as unstable moods, depression and social withdrawal. Proper dental care for children is similar to adults: brush twice a day and see a dentist every six months. Be sure to monitor the amount of fluoride that your child is using. For children under the age of three, be sure to use a fluoride-free toothpaste and for children aged 3-8, stick with no more than a pea-sized amount each time they brush. The ADA does not recommend children use mouthwash due to the risk of swallowing.
Maintaining proper oral health is not a difficult task to achieve. Brush twice a day for two minutes at a time, floss once a day and visit your dentist every six months. That’s all it is.
Not only will your pocketbook thank you, but your overall health will thank you as well. We tend to take it for granted that our teeth will always be there. When we care about something we lend our full attention to its overall wellbeing. That same level of care should be applied to your teeth. Putting in the two minutes and the regular visits will reward you with a bright white smile and a healthy mouth and body for years to come. And saving a few dollars on your dental bills won’t hurt either.
If you don’t carry insurance or want to learn more about ways to help cover the cost of dentistry, please feel free to call our office for more information.