If you brush your teeth and floss every day, you probably think that you’re doing everything you can to keep your teeth healthy. But that’s only part of the story. By going to the dentist for an exam, you can get your teeth cleaned and checked for cavities and gum disease. Your dentist will also determine if you have or at risk for other minor oral problems that, if left unchecked, can easily worsen. This all might sound pretty simple, but the fact is that too few Americans get regular dental care and for some, it can lead to crisis.
You need to go to the dentist
Everyone should go to the dentist. It used to be that adults were told to get an exam every six months. But the American Dental Association has since revised their recommendations and now suggest that you and your dentist should come up with a plan that best suits your needs. That means that some people may need an exam and cleaning twice a year while others can get away with annual visits. Some folks are perfectly fine scheduling a twice-per-year cleaning and a comprehensive exam once every 12 to 18 months. But remember that these recommendations can change at any time and as we age, we’re more prone to issues that require treatment and more frequent examinations.
Why you shouldn’t postpone dental cleaning and exams
If you spent your childhood cruising through dental appointments with few, if any, cavities or other dental issues, you might get the idea that you’re also in the clear later in your 20s and 30s. That actually couldn’t be further from the truth. Skipping dental exams might keep your schedule open for socializing with friends and family, but dental problems never just clear up without treatment. So avoiding the dentist now for minor and inexpensive routine care will will eventually hit your wallet pretty hard.
Consider this very real scenario: You have a tiny cavity and need a filling. You put it off because it doesn’t hurt or you just don’t like going to the dentist. Then that tiny hole in your tooth starts trapping bits of food and bacteria, acid begins pooling in the small void and now the cavity is larger. Postpone treatment even longer and instead of a minor filling (about $125 – $175), you might need a crown ($800 – $1700) to cover the weakened and permanently destroyed tooth.
Here is a partial list of common dental procedures that you should never postpone:
Tooth decay: Brushing and flossing will help prevent sticky plaque from developing on your teeth and at the gum line. Plaque is actually pretty common and difficult to avoid since we’re always introducing bacteria into our mouth, by way of food, drink, and even breathing. Seeing your dentist for routine cleanings is essential for keeping plaque from developing into tartar, which is much harder to remove. But that’s not all. Plaque can also lead to cavities because acids from food and drink eat away at tooth enamel and go on to cause gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Plaque buildup can also cause bad breath.
Cavities: A majority of adults have had at least one cavity in their life. For dentists, filling a cavity is one of the most common procedures they perform on a daily basis. Most patients can get a cavity filled the same day of their exam, but in some situations, you may need to schedule a second appointment. If that happens, experts strongly suggest getting cavities taken care of because it’s not a case of whether they’ll worsen — it’s a certainty that a cavity will worsen and even destroy the tooth if left untreated long enough. If tooth decay reaches the nerve and blood vessels, you can develop an infection and a painful, swollen abscess. At that point, your options are limited to a root canal and crown or an extraction, which you can then follow up with a bone graft, dental implant or denture.
Sensitive gums: Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, can start out with something as minor as sensitive gums. Neglecting or postponing treatment can lead to bleeding gums, receding gums, painful inflammation, and eventually the need for an extraction. It can lead to loose teeth and even tooth loss. It’s a lot easier — and less costly — to get regular checkups than to have to deal with an extraction, bone graft, dental implants or dentures.
Seeing your dentist for regular cleanings and check-ups are important because it helps keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy. And during exams, your dentist will check your overall oral health for other potentially serious problems. Catching cavities, plaque, and even lumps and sores early are all pretty normal, it’s when you skip your regular checkups that things can get serious — and seriously expensive.