At this point in history, there are several ways Americans can access affordable dental care. Some people choose dental insurance as a way to pay for dental services. Others who are looking for an alternative to insurance can find savings options like a dental discount program that provides significant discounts off the retail cost of dental services.
But, options for affording dental care were not always this way. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when quality dental care was simply out of reach for many Americans. And even those who could access a qualified dentist often didn’t understand the importance of doing so or that regular dental care was a need.
The road to appreciating oral hygiene
In fact, although modern dentistry got its start in the late 17th century and the U.S. was home to the world’s first dental college, even simple daily oral health self care habits like toothbrushing didn’t fully catch on in the United States until after WWII in the mid 20th century!
Naturally, as Americans began to care more about cleaning and protecting their teeth, the general dental visit became more common as well. These days, nearly every American knows the basics of maintaining oral health:
- Brush your teeth twice a day
- Floss once a day
- Visit your dentist twice a year
What happened before these trends became popular?
Unfortunately, the average early 19th century American living outside the nation’s few major cities was likely missing most of his teeth by the time he reached his twilight years (which was only about 37 years old on average in 1800.).
As time went on, we learned that failing to carry out the most basic of oral hygiene - including regular dental visits for professional cleaning and examination - can lead to all of the following and more:
Cavities are formed when sugary substances land on teeth and the natural bacteria in the mouth process the sugar and produce acid in its place. The acid eats through the tooth’s enamel, forming a hole that slowly grows and deepens until the tooth’s nerve is exposed.
Without ongoing proper dental care, the combination of food particles remaining on the teeth and bacteria growing means cavities are more likely to form.
2. Plaque and tartar
Plaque is a sticky white substance that often coats the surface of the teeth. It forms naturally through the bacterial processes described above. After it remains on teeth over time, it hardens into a tough, yellowish crust called tartar, which can be harmful.
Since tartar contains a lot of bacteria and is nearly indestructible without physically removing it, it cements the bacteria in place where acid can eat away at the underlying enamel, causing decay even faster.
3. Gum disease
Similar to the issues above, more likely to occur in a mouth that doesn’t receive regular dental care, is gum disease. Inflamed and infected gums can become a serious health issue that affects other parts of the body. Alternatively, gum disease is often preventable, and if already present, easily identifiable by a dentist to begin treating the issue.
4. Tooth grinding
One natural reaction for some people to make in times of stress, pain, or while sleeping is to clench and grind teeth. Left unchecked, teeth grinding, known as bruxism, can cause serious oral issues over time, such as an distorted bite, chipped teeth, shifting teeth, jaw disorders like TMJ and even lost teeth. When regular dental care is part of the equation, a dentist can help by creating a mouth guard or other solutions to prevent the issue from worsening.
What can you do?
Many of these problems can be avoided altogether or successfully treated with proper dental care, both by personal maintenance and ongoing professional dental care. When the cost of dental services is prohibiting ongoing cleanings and examinations, consider how a dental discount plan can help you save 20% to 50% on dental care. Want to learn more? Here are 3 things you need to know about dental insurance alternatives.