Care with bite Start early on den­tal health

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - LINDY BOLLEN JR.

Shortly af­ter I grad­u­ated den­tal school and es­tab­lished a prac­tice a cousin asked me, “Why are you den­tists so ex­pen­sive?”

I im­me­di­ately asked when he last saw his den­tist to have his teeth cleaned. Af­ter some hes­i­ta­tion he replied that it had been about three years. I ex­plained that when rou­tine pre­ven­tion is ig­nored, den­tal de­cay and/or gum dis­ease can eas­ily be­come es­tab­lished, which leads to prob­lems of­ten re­quir­ing ex­pen­sive treat­ment. If you wait to see a den­tist un­til driven by pain, chances are the dam­age only leaves two op­tions be­yond a sim­ple re­pair: ex­ten­sive and ex­pen­sive treat­ment or the re­moval of a tooth (or mul­ti­ple teeth).

Fe­bru­ary is rec­og­nized by the Amer­i­can Den­tal As­so­ci­a­tion (ADA) as Na­tional Chil­dren’s Den­tal Health Month. Dur­ing this month oral health pro­fes­sion­als (den­tists, den­tal hy­gien­ists and den­tal as­sis­tants) help to share the mes­sage of ed­u­ca­tion and pre­ven­tion that should be­gin at an early age.

Den­tal caries, or tooth de­cay, is one of the most com­mon and un­treated chronic dis­eases of chil­dren un­der the age of 19 in the United States. Tooth de­cay is four times more com­mon than asthma among ado­les­cents 1417 years of age. Among 2-year-olds, 11 per­cent have tooth de­cay and, by the age of 5, the num­ber in­creases to 44 per­cent.

Oral health is an in­te­gral part of over­all health for all ages. Den­tal de­cay and re­sul­tant pain have been as­so­ci­ated with greater num­bers of emer­gency room vis­its, hospi­tal­iza­tion, di­min­ished abil­ity to learn or work, in­suf­fi­cient phys­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, and loss of school and/or work days. For chil­dren alone, den­tal pain has been es­ti­mated to re­sult in 51 mil­lion school hours lost for the chil­dren.

Two of the largest hin­drances for peo­ple seek­ing reg­u­lar den­tal care are fear and ex­pense.

By start­ing a child with reg­u­lar pre­ven­tive-care vis­its to the den­tist, the fear fac­tor can be minimized or avoided al­to­gether. Chil­dren get used to the den­tal of­fice, es­pe­cially if the treat­ment in­volves a gen­tle clean­ing of the teeth and a pleas­ant visit with the staff. Ad­di­tion­ally, the den­tal pro­fes­sion­als are able to mon­i­tor the growth and de­vel­op­ment of the child. If de­cay is de­tected early, the treat­ment is rel­a­tively sim­ple un­der lo­cal anes­the­sia.

When chil­dren do not visit the den­tist for reg­u­lar pre­ven­tive care, un­di­ag­nosed de­cay can ad­vance to the point of pain and the pos­si­bil­ity of de­vel­op­ing an ab­scess. If a child’s first den­tal visit is the re­sult of a den­tal pain emer­gency, there is a great like­li­hood the child re­lates any fu­ture den­tal visit to pain, fear and anx­i­ety.

Ad­dress­ing the sec­ond con­cern of fi­nances also re­lates to reg­u­lar pre­ven­tive care. Rou­tine pre­ven­tive vis­its al­low the den­tal pro­fes­sional to keep teeth clean and free of cav­ity-caus­ing bac­te­ria as well as the bac­te­ria that leads to gum dis­ease. Any prob­lems such as de­cay or gum dis­ease can be dis­cov­ered ear­lier when treat­ment op­tions usu­ally are sim­ple and less ex­pen­sive.

Den­tal clean­ings can be com­pared to the need for the rec­om­mended oil change for proper ve­hi­cle main­te­nance. With­out that rou­tine care, your ve­hi­cle will even­tu­ally stop func­tion­ing al­to­gether. To ig­nore reg­u­lar den­tal clean­ings as a “cost-sav­ing mea­sure” can lead to po­ten­tially larger ex­penses in the fu­ture for treat­ing the ad­vanced stages of den­tal de­cay and/or pe­ri­odon­tal dis­ease. Of­ten that ex­pense may be too much for an in­di­vid­ual, and as a re­sult they may be lim­ited to re­moval of their teeth. Tooth loss is not a given when proper mea­sures are ob­served to main­tain the health of your mouth.

Good den­tal health is im­por­tant to ev­ery­one. In­creas­ingly, the med­i­cal com­mu­nity is see­ing a cor­re­la­tion be­tween oral health and other chronic sys­temic health is­sues.

Sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures, such as joint re­place­ment, are of­ten de­layed un­til a pa­tient’s oral health is treated and im­proved. Diabetic pa­tients who have pe­ri­odon­tal (gum) dis­ease have a very dif­fi­cult is­sue try­ing to main­tain their A1c lev­els. Pa­tients in long-term-care fa­cil­i­ties are sus­cep­ti­ble to as­pi­ra­tion pneu­mo­nia if their oral cav­i­ties are team­ing with bac­te­ria as­so­ci­ated with gum dis­eases.

While the eyes may serve as the win­dow to the soul, the mouth can pro­vide a glance to your health. Sur­veys have in­di­cated that a smile is one of the first things peo­ple rec­og­nize. Don’t treat your teeth like a throw­away body part. Our teeth were meant to last us a life­time. Be good to your teeth, or they will be false to you.

Lindy Bollen Jr., DDS, is di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Oral Health at the Arkansas Depart­ment of Health.

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