Many elementary schools across the United States are beginning each morning not with arithmetic lessons but with programs sponsored by local dental clinics – encouraging children to brush and floss upon arrival. While formal education about the effects of poor dental hygiene is now becoming standard, every dental professional must also do their part to educate patients about the costs of poor dental hygiene over the lifespan.
For the many teens and adults who are now confronting significant (and expensive) dental issues, it is not too late to be proactive.
Why Do People Have Poor Dental Hygiene?
At home, failing to regularly brush and floss can arise from a number of factors, but it typically boils down to a lack of awareness of the importance of dental hygiene. Many people are unaware that cavities can form not only on the surface of their teeth but also between them. In addition to causing pain, if left unchecked and unrepaired, cavities often lead to major discomfort and sometimes widespread infection. This is compounded by the fact that many people avoid regular dental check-ups and approximately 74 million American citizens lack insurance coverage for dental work.
This feeds into the following statistics:
- Over 90% of American adults have had at least 1 cavity. About 1 in 4 cavities remain untreated.
- Nearly half of all adults over 30 have signs of gum disease, which equates to roughly 65 million Americans.
- While preventable, cavities remain one of the most common chronic childhood health problems in the United States.
Because of the high costs, many people forego or put off dental care, usually missing routine check-ups and putting off any recommended surgeries or treatment plans. Waiting can be very costly to patients, and in more ways than one.
The Long-Term Costs of Poor Dental Hygiene If a person does not commit to preventative dental care – meaning flossing and brushing twice daily – and they also avoid regular professional exams, they are surely going to end up with dental problems sooner or later. This could range from cavities (which can be cleaned and filled if caught early enough) and root canals to extractions or even gum disease – resulting in the loss of multiple teeth.
Going to the dentist as a last resort, once you begin to feel pain, can result in an emergency dental visit, which will be far more costly than regular twice-a-year cleanings and preventative check-ups. Depending on the treatment required, the costs can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.
Although a filling won’t cost much, if the problem has been avoided for some time, a root canal or extraction may be necessary. This will carry the added cost of a crown or implant, or the immeasurable cost of living without a complete set of teeth.
What Poor Dental Care Does to Your Teeth
According to Newton Dentistry, when a person suffers from poor dental care, they will experience both short-term and long-term symptoms. At the top of the list, missing even 1 day of proper dental hygiene will lead to bad breath. In a matter of days, the bad bacteria will begin to accumulate in your mouth and break down the enamel. The enamel (the protective layer on the teeth) will continue to break down when acidic foods and beverages are left coating the surface of the teeth. This is reinforced by improper brushing, which enables the bad bacteria to eat its way through the enamel and begin to attack dentin. If ignored, the bad bacteria will continue to eat through until they reach the pulp of the tooth.
When a cavity reaches the tooth’s pulp, a root canal becomes necessary because the bacteria can infect the nerves and the tooth’s core. The cavity will also allow food particles and other contaminants to enter into the tooth, causing extreme pain and sensitivity.
As the pulp continues to decay, an abscess forms. This can be extremely painful and must be drained (to relieve the swelling) and properly cleaned. If an abscess goes untreated, an infection can spread through the gums, effecting surrounding teeth and even reaching the jaw bone, which can cause severe and potentially life-threatening issues – including an infection spreading to the brain. Fortunately, most people go to the dentist once a cavity becomes painful, which is generally when the bacteria begins to reach the dentin or pulp layer of the tooth.
Alternatively, had the patient gone in for their 6-month exam, the dentist could have visually spotted cavities that were beginning to break down the enamel. With annual X-ray screenings, they can also spot small cavities that are beginning to form between the teeth, allowing them to be cleaned and filled before they become painful and costly problems.
The Big Picture of Poor Dental Hygiene
Poor dental hygiene can affect a person’s life in many other ways, including lowered confidence and mental health. Considering a person’s smile is the first thing anyone notices, it can also affect their success in their personal and professional lives.
Poor dental care also contributes to diseases. For example, among diabetics, certain dental diseases can increase blood sugar levels and even the need for hospitalization. By comparison, diabetics who received treatment for gum disease are 33% less likely to be hospitalized. Those with heart disease need to be especially mindful of their dental hygiene. After all, the mouth is considered the “dirtiest part of the body” and certain dental diseases can result in more bacteria entering the blood stream, leading to inflammation and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Poor dental health can also contribute to the risk factors associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
For reasons not limited to these, proper and preventative dental care is a “must” for every patient. It is particularly important for those in lower income brackets whose lives could be upended if they are forced to pay an emergency medical bill out-of-pocket.
What Clinicians Should Be Doing
Quite simply, reminding people to floss while they’re sitting in the examination chair isn’t enough. A lack of dental education is often the primary reason why people put off or fail to prioritize their dental care, which is why clinicians should work to educate patients on how their dental hygiene can affect their overall health and well-being.
While pamphlets and web resources are helpful, a direct conversation with a hygienist or dentist is often the best way for a person to understand how they can improve their health simply by brushing and flossing. This bears particularly on patients who come in irregularly or are suffering from dental problems. Beyond giving them a toothbrush and floss, clinicians should explain the proper technique for bruising, reminding patients to brush all surfaces of their teeth and floss in-between.
They should also recommend a restorative mouth rinse, as needed, and remind patients that any pain or discomfort they’re experiencing should be brought to a professional’s attention sooner rather than later. Even just informing patients about how affordable dental sealants work can make a major difference, as sealants can prevent over 80% of cavities for 2 years after placement.
Taking the extra step to help arm patients with the information they need is vital for patients who smoke or chew tobacco, drink acidic beverages often, or are otherwise at a higher risk of developing dental problems.
Good Dental Health Pays Off
No matter what a person does, where they live, or the goals they have for themselves, good dental health will always pay off for them in the long run. With a healthy smile, a person is in a better position to achieve personal and professional goals without having to worry about tooth loss, unexpected dental bills, or mouth pain.
For clinicians, whenever a patient comes for a visit, it is important to talk about the current state of their dental health and empower them with a treatment plan. This should include a discussion about financing options so that every patient knows that a healthy smile is achievable for them, regardless of their budget.
By following these recommendations, every patient can walk in and out of the dental clinic feeling happy and satisfied with their dental health and overall well-being.