In this first of an ongoing series of conversations with oral health professionals, we wanted to dig deeper into a concerning trend affecting dentists across the United States: the difficulty they’re having convincing patients to consistently schedule and show up for their semiannual routine dental cleaning and examination appointments.
We contacted four dentists who treat patients every day and promote excellent oral health across the country to learn answers to these two important questions:
- Why are adults in the U.S. not going to the dentist as often as they should?
- Why are regular dental visits essential to oral (and overall) health?
Here’s what they had to say:
Why are adults in the U.S. not visiting the dentist as often as they should?
“Many adults have dental phobia and many times it is related to a traumatic childhood dental experience,” says Dr. Wayne Suway, a general and cosmetic dentist serving patients in Atlanta, Georgia, “Often, the adult will wait until it hurts before scheduling an appointment and by that time it could become a more serious issue. Additionally, maintaining good dental health is not a priority to many people and financially it can be a concern.”
Dr. Bobbi Stanley, who owns a full service dental practice in Cary, North Carolina, concurs: “Although most people state cost as the reason for not going to the dentist, we have found that fear is a bigger issue. A very large percentage of the adult population is afraid to go to the dentist. Most contribute this to bad dental experiences during childhood.”
But solutions to this paralyzing fear are available, as Dr. Stanley goes on to relate, “Fortunately, sedation dentistry is available to help these adults maintain their dental health without the fear. With IV sedation, patients relax in a sleep-like state while their dental needs are being taken care of by their dentist.”
Is fear of the dentist something you deal with? Is it keeping you from receiving the level of care you need to maintain good oral health?
Speak to your dentist about it, and discuss what options they may have available for helping you overcome a crippling fear.
Dr. Suway says “I consider myself to be in partnership with my patients. I help them understand how to best take care of their teeth at home; then, during regular office visits, the services I provide run the gamut from all phases of functional dentistry to a wide range of cosmetic dentistry.”
Why are regular dental visits vital to oral and overall health?
Our panel of experts voiced a number of important reasons why it’s so important to visit the dentist regularly for an examination and professional cleaning, even if you’re not experiencing pain or other oral health challenges.
"Fortunately, sedation dentistry is available to help these adults maintain their dental health without the fear. With IV sedation, patients relax in a sleep-like state while their dental needs are being taken care of by their dentist."
According to Dr. Kevin Ho, a cosmetic dentist and clinical professor, “Flossing your teeth is probably the number one thing you need to do to maintain oral health. Most people end up getting cavities in between their teeth, because brushing does not get to these areas. Another important thing to do is to keep up with your regular 6-month cleanings. Its very important to have any tartar removed professionally, as tartar contributes to gum disease, which causes bone loss around your teeth, and often results in teeth becoming loose.”
Dr. Suway sums it up like this: “[Regular dental visits are vital] to maintain good oral health and sometimes prevent major problems from occurring. After all, the mouth is the gateway to the body; a healthy mouth fosters overall health.”
Dr. Stanley notes another important reason for adults, especially, to prioritize oral health care, “Bi-annual checkups and regular cleanings with your dentist can help to maintain your teeth as you age. As we get older, our hand dexterity tends to lessen. That makes brushing harder and less effective. Regular cleanings by a dental professional will help to make sure harmful bacteria is not an issue.”
Stanley goes on to explain, “Also, since it is more challenging to take care of our teeth as we age, it is advantageous to have straight teeth. Often times, adults will state that they have crooked or rotated teeth but they ‘don’t mind how they look’. Esthetics doesn’t seem to be important. However, cleaning around rotated teeth is quite difficult. If we straighten our teeth, we can clean them easier as we get older. Our teeth are important to us as we age. The older we get, the more important nutrition is. The only way to get full nutrition is by breaking down our food before it enters our digestive system (i.e. chew it fully).”
Dr. Scott Merritt, founder of Bridge Mill Dentistry in Atlanta, Georgia, brings out another important point about the impact of modern oral health knowledge and technology, “With all the awareness and advances in homecare, this generation will have a significantly better chance of maintaining a healthy mouth full of teeth for their entire lives. Diet and genetics still play a huge role in adult teeth longevity, but the main cause of tooth loss due to extensive bone loss is most definitely poor oral care. Even with a family history of poor teeth and a heavy sugar diet, excellent home and professional care can often work to counteract these factors and allow us to maintain most or all of our teeth throughout our lifetime.”
So, not only is it important that we prioritize oral health for its own sake and for the sake of our overall health, but, more so than any other time in history, we can expect the efforts we make to care for our oral health to result in a long and healthy lifetime of productive use.
Now that we know what keeps us away from the dentist and why it’s so important we overcome those challenges, here is Dr. Suway’s parting advice:
- Brush and floss twice daily
- Keep regular 6 month dental checkup appointments
- Limit sugar intake and make smart choices regarding diet
- Quit smoking
- Drink tap water (contains fluoride to prevent decay) if unable to brush in between meals
If cost gets in the way of scheduling an appointment with a dentist, a dental discount program could be a quick and easy fix that meets your budget and gets you back on the road to excellent oral health.