“Schedule a cleaning and exam every six months.”
You’ve heard it a million times. Starting in childhood, dentists and healthcare professionals recommend a preventive care appointment (what most of us refer to as our “dental checkup”) twice a year.
For those of us who have dental insurance, making a preventative care appointment every six months isn’t a problem. But if you don’t have coverage through your employer — or you just hate going to the dentist — it’s likely that you put your visits off more often than you really should.
If you’ve never had dental problems before, delaying your dental checkups could change that. Here’s why:
Tooth Decay Doesn’t Always Hurt
Even if we want to look after our teeth and stay on the alert for problems as soon as they pop up, diseases like periodontitis and cavities can develop without us realizing it. By the time something hurts, there’s swelling, or you know there’s an obvious problem going on, it’s usually more involved than just having a small filling or gum treatment.
Minimally Invasive Care is Best
Dentists prefer to diagnose problems early, so they can be treated when they’re simple. The sooner a cavity is filled, the smaller the filling needs to be. This preserves healthy tooth structure and minimizes how invasive the procedure is overall.
But delaying preventative care appointments means your dentist and hygienist don’t get to screen for conditions when they’re in the earliest stages. So you never know there’s a problem to begin with. Once you realize that a tooth has something wrong with it, there’s a good chance that several others do as well.
Small Problems Can Quickly Turn into Expensive Ones
A small filling costs less to perform than a larger filling would. But it doesn’t stop there. If decay has gradually progressed further into the tooth, you don’t have an option to fill it anymore. Instead, the only way to preserve the tooth’s integrity is to put a crown over it. Crowns usually take about two appointments to make and place, plus a week or two in-between for it to be hand made in a lab (adding to the overall cost of the procedure.)
But wait even longer…and that compromised tooth now has an infected nerve. Neither a crown nor a filling will solve the problem; instead, you need a root canal. Otherwise, the inside of the tooth will continue to harbor infection and result in complete loss. After a root canal, you’ll still need a crown. As you can tell, delaying treatment will lead to treatment costs adding up.
Teeth Aren’t the Only Thing That Need Preventive Care
Did you know that your dental team is just as concerned about the health of your gums as they are your teeth? Infected gums start out as gingivitis but if not addressed early on, it worsens into periodontal disease. Some of the symptoms to look for include:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding when you brush and floss
- Sore gums
- Receding gumlines
- Heavy tartar buildup
Periodontal disease is the #1 cause of tooth loss, but it can also affect your overall health. If secondary medical problems exist (like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc.) then it can even make it more challenging for your body to keep everything in balance.
To minimize the risk of gum disease, it’s best to schedule a preventative cleaning every six months, with an exam. During your cleaning, the hygienist or dentist will remove calcified plaque (tartar) that has accumulated since the last appointment. Even if you’re great about brushing and flossing thoroughly, there is usually at least a small amount of buildup in hard-to-reach areas. Having it cleaned away will prevent the tartar from working further under the gums, destructing the soft tissues and bone that keep your teeth in place.
When Insurance Pays Less
Comprehensive dental insurance usually covers your preventative care appointments at 100% for in-network dentists. But once restorative treatments are needed, the coverage will start requiring out of pocket payments, deductibles, etc. But not only that, the percentage of care that’s covered will be lower. The more extensive the treatment that’s needed, the lower the coverage drops…from 80% to 50%…etc. It might not even be covered at all, depending on the details of your plan.
Get the most out of your smile by seeing your dentist regularly, treating dental problems when they’re smaller, and taking advantage of preventative care coverage. But if you don’t have insurance, consider enrolling in a dental savings plan with Aetna Dental Offers to save 15-50% off of preventative and routine care without the deductibles or waiting periods of traditional dental insurance!