Did you know that up to 80% of Americans have anxiety about going to the dentist? And for 9% to 15% of those folks, that fear causes them to avoid dental treatment altogether. Even if dental checkups don’t strike fear into your heart, you might not look forward to your biannual cleaning and exam. For many people, preventive dental care is considered a necessary evil — but it is quite necessary.
You see, oral hygiene (including both at-home care and routine visits to the dentist) does more than keep your pearly whites shining bright. Your body’s systems are interconnected, and your mouth serves as a gateway to the rest of your body. If you neglect your teeth, gums, and tongue, the whole system will suffer the consequences.
The Consequences of Poor Dental Care
When you put oral health on the back burner, it can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and other health issues that you might not think are related to the mouth. For instance, an untreated infection in your gum tissue can spread to other areas of your body and cause inflammation in blood vessels. In some cases, it can even lead to heart complications (more on that in a moment).
In contrast, seeing a dentist regularly can help you catch numerous medical issues as early as possible. Oral cancer, for instance, is the sixth most common cancer. In its earliest stages, oral cancer presents as painless white and red lesions around the tongue and floor of the mouth. It’s easy for the untrained eye to miss, but a dentist can recognize these warning signs and refer you to a specialist as quickly as possible.
Beyond oral cancer, routine dental checkups can also catch diseases like:
- Osteoporosis:Osteoporosis is challenging to diagnose until a patient breaks a bone. Dentists can sometimes detect osteoporosis earlier if they identify bone loss in a patient’s mouth, which could indicate bone loss elsewhere in the body.
- Dementia:We often associate memory loss and confusion with the early stages of dementia, and those symptoms can impact someone’s ability to care for their mouth (e.g., forgetting how to brush their teeth). If a dentist notices a sudden decline in a patient’s oral health, it might suggest they have dementia.
- Heart disease: One warning sign of heart disease is red, inflamed, and bleeding gums. Bacteria from gum disease can lead to blood clots or plaque buildup in a patient’s arteries, which affects their heart’s blood flow and puts them at risk for coronary artery disease. This is why gum care is key to whole-body health — and regular deep cleanings of your teeth can help protect your gums and heart.
No one wants to discover they have severe medical issues during a visit to the dentist, but early identification can improve a patient’s chances of managing that condition while also reducing treatment costs down the line.
An Ounce of Dental Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
Preventive dental care will always be cheaper, which is why it’s never a good idea to skip a dental checkup to save a few bucks. Filling cavities is more costly than routine deep cleanings of your teeth, crowns are more expensive than fillings, and dental implants are even more expensive. The more you prioritize preventive dental care — including regular brushing, flossing, and biannual dentist checkups — the more likely you will avoid costly dental crises.
If you signed up for ancillary benefits under your employer-sponsored health plan, there’s a good chance biannual dentist visits are fully covered. Often, that includes X-rays every 18 months as well as a full exam of your mouth, jaw, neck, etc. But even if your plan doesn’t fully cover dental checkups, you still have other payment options. Paytient members can use their cards to cover out-of-pocket dentist expenses at the time of care, effortlessly turning their care costs into interest-free payment plans.