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Preventive Dental Care

Visit Your Dentist Regularly

It takes more than good oral hygiene to maintain your oral health. Here are four reasons you should routinely visit a dentist:

  1. Preventive dental treatment is essential. Exams, cleanings, and other preventive care treatments delivered by a dentist are essential to maintaining your oral health. They reduce the risk of tooth decay, periodontal disease, and other dental conditions.
  2. Dentists may detect symptoms of many diseases at an early stage. Many health conditions present with symptoms in your mouth and jaws. Your dentist may see early signs of these health conditions long before other symptoms alert you to visit a doctor.
  3. Poor oral health increases your risk for various medical conditions. It can also complicate your ability to manage them. This includes conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
  4. Your lifestyle choices, medical conditions, or medical treatments can increase your oral health risk. It is important to understand your oral health risk factors and take extra precautions to address them.

So why don't more people routinely visit the dentist? Many studies conclude that cost is the primary reason, so it's no surprise that only 1 in 6 people without dental insurance visit the dentist at least once a year. Why then do only about half of the people with dental insurance visit the dentist at least once a year1 when most dental insurance plans reimburse all or most preventive care expenses?

There are many reasons why people don't prioritize their dental care including fear, neglect, avoidance, lack of convenient access to care, and even overestimating their oral health. In addition, there are huge variations in behavior based on cultural background, income levels, and other "social determinants."2

This article is intended to address one important factor we have yet to mention: education and awareness. So read on to learn more about why it's important to prioritize dental visits for you and your family.

Preventive dental treatment is essential

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but there is no cure for dental disease. This is why prevention is so important, and the best strategy is to avoid it in the first place. This can only be achieved if you commit to a lifetime of good oral hygiene at home and professional preventive dental care, including exams, cleanings, fluoride treatment, and sealants. For example, once you have tooth decay, you will live with the effects forever. Fillings will eventually fail. When they do, you'll need bigger fillings, crowns, or more invasive treatment like root canals or tooth removal. The same is true of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can be treated, and the damage it causes can generally be repaired, but it must then be managed through good oral hygiene and regular periodontal maintenance. This is essential to keep the disease from progressing, causing additional damage, and impacting your overall health.

Dentists may detect symptoms of many diseases at an early stage

Many health conditions present with symptoms in your mouth and jaws at an early stage. During a dental exam, your dentist may recognize these symptoms and refer you to a healthcare professional for evaluation. This can lead to earlier treatment and improve your chances for a successful recovery. It is important to note that dentists can screen for evidence of systemic disease but cannot make formal diagnoses for these conditions. For example:

  • Your dentist is one of only a handful of health care professionals that screen for oral cancer, which is diagnosed in over 50,000 Americans a year. While treatment methods are improving, the 5-year survival rate is only about 60%, far worse than many other forms of cancer.3
  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes affect over 100 million Americans, and people with diabetes often show signs of periodontal disease and other oral symptoms. Appropriately treated and maintained gum disease lowers blood sugar in people with Type 2 diabetes.
  • Eating disorders affect an estimated 20 million women, and 10 million men in America at some point in their lives4 and often go undetected since they are done in secret. Your dentist may be the key to noticing signs and symptoms at an early stage and can initiate intervention and referrals since many effects of these disorders appear in your mouth.
  • Lyme disease is diagnosed in nearly 500,000 in the U.S. every year. This debilitating disease can show symptoms such as jaw and neck pain, headaches, and an altered sense of taste.5
  • Osteoporosis or low bone mass affects over 50 million people in the U.S., most of whom are older women. Researchers have found that dental X-ray images are highly effective in the early identification of osteoporosis.6

Other conditions that show signs and symptoms in your mouth in their early stages include:

  • Respiratory disease
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Cancer
  • Blood disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Sleep Apnea

Poor oral health increases your risk for various medical conditions. It can also complicate your ability to manage them.

Research has shown that "bad" bacteria in your mouth can enter the bloodstream and contribute to or worsen many systemic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and others. Regular dental visits help to prevent oral disease or treat them early enough to ensure that oral disease does not increase your risk for medical conditions or undermine your efforts to treat and manage them.

The facts below are not to scare you, nor do they suggest that poor oral health causes these conditions, but they are supported by reliable research. Poor oral health may not cause these conditions, but there is clear evidence that poor oral health can increase your overall health risk in significant ways.

  • People with periodontal disease have a two to three times higher risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular events.7
  • People with tooth decay have a 450% higher risk of brain bleed strokes than those without decay.8
  • Periodontal disease elevates blood sugar levels, making diabetes and related problems harder to manage.9
  • Periodontal disease is associated with preterm birth and low birth weight10, and newborns are three times more likely to develop tooth decay if expecting or new mothers have high levels of untreated decay during and after pregnancy.11

Your lifestyle choices, medical conditions, or medical treatments can increase your oral health risk

While everyone should seek regular dental care, it's particularly important for some people.

Your lifestyle choices can have devastating effects on your teeth, gums, and jaws. Similarly, certain medical conditions, treatments, and medications can adversely affect your oral health. Consider these examples:

  • Alcohol is an irritant that breaks down the cells in the lining of your mouth. According to the American Cancer Society, 7 out of 10 oral cancer patients are heavy drinkers, which is defined as two or more drinks per day for men and one or more for women.12
  • Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, chew, snuff, pipes, vaping devices, e-cigarettes, or betel nut, immediately affects your mouth's soft tissues, jawbones, lips, and throat. Tobacco users tend to produce more bacteria that cause tooth decay than non-users and accelerate its progression leading to tooth decay, periodontal disease, and tooth loss.2
  • At any age, protect your face and mouth from impact when participating in sports or activities. Hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. conduct some sort of physical activity, including over 70% of children involved in a team or individual sport.13 Your dentist can provide you with protection against chipped, cracked, or displaced teeth, jaw or soft tissue injuries, and damage to orthodontics.
  • Studies have shown that diabetes can increase your risk of severe periodontal disease by three times.14
  • About 33% of people who undergo cancer treatment develop oral complications such as tooth decay, periodontal disease, mouth sores, dry mouth, and infection. That percentage increases to 40% of people who receive chemotherapy, 80% who have a stem cell transplant, and nearly 100% who receive radiation for head and neck cancers.15
  • Many prescribed medications can cause dry mouth, a condition which increases your risk of tooth decay and periodontal disease. These include antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants, sedatives, and anxiety and pain medications.

Author: Fluent staff
Last updated: 1/13/2022Medical review: Thomas J. Greany DDS, 9/20/2021
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