According to the American Dental Association, the main barriers to dental care are not related to the availability of dental care resources. They are financial. That is, the majority of people who are not getting the dental care they need simply cannot afford it. Fortunately, free dental care and low-cost dental care options are often available for those who are unable to cover the costs of the general dentistry work they need.
However, because free dental care services are free, they are often hard to find. They rarely have budgets to advertise. So, you need to know where to look. If you’re putting off the dental care you need because you lack the money to pay for it, here are a few possible alternatives as well as tips about how to find them.
Of course, if you are in need of emergency help, don’t wait. Call your dentist or go to your nearest emergency room immediately.
Free Dental Care: Special Introductory Deals
Sometimes, people skip dental checkups because their teeth feel fine and they need the money for other things. Unfortunately, even when teeth feel great, they still require ongoing professional cleaning and observation. That’s the only sure way to prevent problems from developing.
When they open a new office or practice, dentists’ sometimes offer free dental care such as free or discounted dental exams and dental cleanings. It’s a great way for them to begin building their list of patients. While these types of offers rarely include additional free work, they are a good way to keep your teeth healthy and get to know a local dentist who you may want to see again in the future.
To discover these types of free dental care offers, you can search online for dentists in your area. Also, watch your mailbox for these types of offers, or try calling a new dental office that you notice along your daily commute.
Dental Clinics for Low-Income Families
Many people have access to community dental clinics that serve low-income families in their areas. These types of clinics typically provide services for free or at a reduced rate. While they may not offer free dental care, the payments may be purely voluntary (pay what you can), or the fees may be tied to a sliding fee scale based on your income.
These types of clinics often provide a wide range of health-related services in addition to dental care. Depending on the clinic, they may serve only children, only adults, both children and adults, pregnant women, or low-income adults who are 19 or older and Medicaid eligible.
To find a clinic that will meet your needs, try searching for the phrase “dental clinics for low income families near me” or near your zip code. Be sure to call ahead to learn if they will be able to help you with your specific needs, and, if so, when.
State and Local Resources for Free Dental Care
State and local health departments often know of programs that offer free dental care or care at reduced prices. They will almost certainly be able to help you find a low-income clinic. They may also be able to direct you to financial assistance programs that can help with these types of services.
To learn about the free or low-cost dental resources in your area, search for “oral health resources near me.” You can also call your local, state or regional health department.
Public Schools as Free Dental Care Resources
In many communities, school-aged children receive free dental cleanings and exams. These resources may be limited to only low-income children or only available at a certain time of the year, such as at the beginning of the school year. They may or may not include more in-depth services.
It’s generally easy to find out whether these types of resources are available in your area. Check with your school or keep an eye on your local newspaper or community website announcements area.
Dental Schools and Free Dental Care
Universities with dental schools often make free dental care available to people in their communities. They often provide these opportunities as a way for students to practice the dentistry skills they have learned or as part of a student training exercise or exam.
Highly trained instructors, who are experts in their fields, supervise all the work provided by dental students. This helps ensure the student dentists and dental assistants complete their work to the highest standards. It also means that work takes a bit longer than in a clinic, but free is free after all.
Learn more: Dental Degrees
With nearly 70 dental schools in the US – and hardly a state without one – chances are you’re within a day’s drive of free help. Contact your nearest dental school to see whether they have this type of opportunity. Just be prepared to put your name on a waiting list, as these opportunities are typically only available at specific times during the academic year.
Dental Care Accessibility Organizations
In addition to state and local resources and schools, a number of other groups either provide or can help you locate free or low-cost dental care resources in your area. These include the following:
- The United Way
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
- Dentistry from the Heart
- Mission of Mercy
- Remote Area Medical (RAM) Clinics
Check out their websites to learn more about their missions and the ways they can help you.
When your circumstances change, we’ll still be here to help
At DentalInsurance.com, we understand that not everyone can afford the costs of dental care. We hope these resources and ideas will help you to get the help you need anyway.
The ideas in this blog should help you find the help you need, whether you’re just skipping checkups to save for other expenses, or you’ve been putting off badly needed dental work due to the lack of funds.
So please, use these ideas to find the help you need. And some day, when you’re in a better financial position to be more proactive, come back and see us. We’ll be happy to help you find a dental insurance plan or dental discount plan that will keep a winning smile on your face for years to come.
Read next: Benefits of Regular Dental Visits
Could a school dental care checklist help your kids do better this year? With summer vacations nearly at an end, thoughts are turning to the new school year ahead.
Parents are stocking up on back to school supplies and kids are trying on new shoes and clothes. The focus is on helping young learners put their best foot forward in the new school year.
What else can you do to ensure your child’s hungry mind can soak up all the learning that lies ahead? How about sending your kids off to school this year with bright smiles and the tools they need to build and benefit from strong oral health habits?
As the new school year begins, here are our top items to include on your back to school dental care checklist.
What to Include on Your Back to School Dental Care Checklist
There are a number of things you can include on your own school dental care checklist. Here are some you won’t want to miss:
1. The top item: a regular dental exam
Having a clean bill of oral health will help your child do their best in school. To keep teeth their healthiest, most dentists and health professionals agree you should take kids to the dentist twice a year for a regular exam.
Plan ahead to ensure your child gets in to see the dentist every 6 months. Like their report cards, your kids’ teeth are always subject to change. To ensure kids’ teeth stay their healthiest, nothing can replace routine teeth cleanings and exams done by a professional dental hygienist. Think of it as a crucial part of your family’s dental health regimen.
2. A strong daily dental care routine
Are you stocked up on toothpaste, floss, mouthwash? Research has proven that a regular daily routine can help prevent cavities and periodontal disease. Like pencils, paper, and crayons, these tools are essential for your child’s healthy growth.
Ask your dentist what toothpaste and rinse she recommends for her patients and the type of brush and floss you should be using. Then, plan ahead. Keep extra supplies on hand and make a note on your calendar to replace older toothbrushes or brush heads as the seasons change.
Then, brush up on your child’s oral health habits. After all, basic dental care begins with brushing. Using a proper brushing technique is the best protection against plaque, the bacteria that forms on teeth and gums after eating. Also, review the proper way to floss with your child. Flossing teeth is the best way to remove stubborn bacteria from between the teeth and gum line.
Need a full review? Check out our basic oral hygiene overview.
3. Lunch and snack foods that promote good health
It’s a well documented fact that oral health is directly related to overall health. As a result, the foods we eat can be as vital to oral health as regular brushing, flossing, and dental exams.
So, be sure your child eats healthy foods and snacks during the school day. With some organization and planning, you can ensure your child has delicious foods and snacks that support good oral health. A well-balanced diet is always the wisest choice, but vitamins A, C and D are generally known as key essential nutrients for oral health.
In addition, teeth rely on minerals for optimal health, and calcium is among the most important minerals for oral health. Like bones, which provide structural support for the body, calcium gives external structure to the teeth. Check out this article for more about choosing foods for dental nutrition.
4. A properly fitted mouth guard
Regular dental exams, a strong daily routine, and the right foods to support oral health are powerful ways to safeguard your child’s oral health. However, now and then they could use some extra help. That’s why you should ensure your child wears a properly fitted mouth guard when needed.
Mouth guards help keep teeth safe while playing highly physical or contact sports. When a properly fitted mouth guard is used, it helps displace the force of a blow, which can significantly reduce the odds of injury to your child’s mouth and teeth. Mouth guards protect teeth by causing the energy from a blow to spread out so injuries such as chipped or broken teeth, nerve damage, or tooth loss can be reduced.
What other dental care items are you including on your back to school list?
Read next: Oral Health and Bullying: How Dentists Can Spot Verbal Abuse
Did you know going to the dentist for an exam every six months could help you achieve your goals in life? Here are 5 reasons why people with healthy smiles are more successful:
1. People with Healthy Smiles are More Confident
Numerous studies have confirmed the link between confidence and good oral health. Americans reportedly believe people with straight teeth are 45% more likely to get a job and 58% more likely to have a high income.
A good smile does wonders for your self-esteem, making you feel like you were made for success. It’s much easier to visualize yourself in a job you like when you also like the smile you see in the mirror.
You’ve probably come across at least a few people who seem to have attained fame and wealth solely because of their smiles! It’s only natural to react positively to a perfect smile, which is why this attribute is so crucial in many industries, such as real estate, human resources or food service.
Learn more: The Power of A Healthy Smile
2. People with Healthy Smiles are More Disciplined
As any gym rat will tell you, the discipline you devote to your health reflects in your career. After all, it’s difficult to imagine people who are careful about their teeth being careless about their work.
People who have seen the results of a healthy routine carry this discipline into every other facet of life. They take care of their teeth every day no matter what, and same concept applies to getting their work done.
3. People with Healthy Smiles are Healthier
As the ancients said: healthy body, healthy mind. Healthy people feel better throughout the day and therefore have a higher productivity rate. Even if you don’t go to the gym every week, your chances for serious oral health conditions decrease significantly when you see your dentist every six months.
Some of these conditions include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney disease, and pneumonia. Regular dental visits give you more time on Earth by eliminating oral bacteria and plaque that would otherwise spread throughout your body, wreaking havoc on everything from your heart to your brain.
4. People With Healthy Smiles are Less Likely to Smoke or Drink
Maintaining good oral health means staying away from habits that damage your teeth. This might be a hard pill to swallow but in addition to cigarettes, researchers have linked alcoholic beverages to several oral health problems.
Both can have adverse effects on your career, and not just because they may lead to a laundry list of potentially fatal diseases. Having to step outside for a cigarette multiple times throughout the day limits productivity, as does showing up to work hung over.
5. People With Healthy Smiles Have Better Love Lives
Nothing improves confidence like a healthy love life, which is very difficult to achieve without a brilliant smile. In fact, a 2013 survey of approximately 5,000 single adults found that straight, white teeth was the first thing they look for when assessing a potential romantic partner.
This suggests that people with good oral health are more likely to find a spouse. Further research has proven that married people work harder and make more money.
Success Never Looked So Good!
In regards to career opportunities, visiting the dentist every six months is one way of “leveling the playing field,” or keeping yourself in the running for the jobs you want. The moment you start neglecting your oral health, your prospects for success begin to dwindle.
This is why it’s important to remember that even if you aren’t a salesman or Hollywood actor, your teeth helped you get to where you are today and will take you even higher as long as you continue to prioritize oral health.
Read next: Valentine’s Day – All Smiles
No matter the time of the year, a Google search of “oral health news” or “latest dental news” usually reveals countless stories about free dental clinics, free care for vets, or dentists who volunteer to help those in need.
Among the many positive takeaways from these articles is that dentists love to help people.
Empathy is clearly a common trait of any sound medical professional. But how do dentists learn empathy? An experiment done at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry in 2016 shed some light on how dentists can become more understanding.
Empathy: Walking in Patients’ Shoes
At UNC, third-year dental students are required to spend eight weeks treating patients from low-income neighborhoods around the state. The program has existed for 45 years. Even so, faculty member Lewis Lampiris began to see that students, many of whom were from well off families, were still not able to truly connect with their patients.
“I would hear things like, ‘These people are bad that come to these clinics.’ ‘These parents – they don’t take care of their kids.’ ‘They don’t feed them well.’ ‘They bring the whole family to the visit,’” Lampiris told North Carolina Health News.
Lampiris decided to put the students through an exercise in empathy that the school’s nursing students use. When Lampiris introduces the exercise to the students, he tells them frankly that no mock-up can ever truly show them exactly what it’s like to live in poverty.
“This is not a game,” Lampiris tells his students. “I want you to be aware that there are some members, some of your classmates here, who have experienced poverty. This is where they came from. For them, this is real. I want you to respect that fact.”
…be aware that some of your classmates have experienced poverty. For them, this is real. I want you to respect that fact.
To begin, Lampiris splits the students into groups, or “families,” with each group member assigned a role. He gives each “family” details about their expenses and total income as well work, school, or other responsibilities.
The families use fake money to cover bills, groceries, gas and common expenses like car maintenance, health issues, or a tutor. These bills left some unable to pay rent, and forced them to seek help from a lender or a pawn shop owner.
Empathy and Understanding Patients’ Economic Decisions
At the end of the exercise, 98% of the students said that they found it helpful. That includes Kelsey Knight Cody, who was very skeptical at first.
Cody told NC News she thought of the exercise often when she worked with patients. Now, she said, she has a firmer understanding of her low-income patients’ economic decisions.
“They may just not have time, or the clinic hours wouldn’t work out, or they couldn’t take off from their job because that would mean they couldn’t feed their family that week or they didn’t have transportation,” Cody said.
Dental Degrees – How 5 hurdles and a marathon help keep your dentist on her toes
Some students told Lampiris that they identified at once with some patients when they saw their responsibilities were very similar to the roles they had played in the exercise. He believes more medical and dental schools should do this type of exercise.
“There will be more and more people that cannot access care because of the costs associated with it,” he said. “Everybody who is taking care of folks needs to understand.”
Nice, huh? Okay, then, you know the drill…please share!
Read next: Healthy Teeth, Healthy Body
Patients who are wary of the dentist may be able to relax at last. More and more dental practices around the US now offer the type of treatment you’d see in a spa.
Oscar Suarez, 29, admits he used to “always get nervous” before he saw a dentist. “You think, it’s going to be long, it’s going to be painful, I’m going to have to wait,” he told Greenwich Time.
Learn more: Ways to Avoid a Painful Visit to the Dentist
Those days are gone now that Suarez is a patient of a dental spa called Tri-City Dental Care, one of several Washington state dental practices that offer “spa-like” treatments.
Before the dentist gets to work, patients like Suarez can dip their hands into warm wax that softens their skin. The calming scent of lavender fills the room. Headphones play music or a TV plays as they sit in a dental chair that massages them.
The Dental Spa Concept: Turn Dread to Excitement
“When I opened the practice, I wanted to bring a good experience to every person coming in,” said Dr. Antonio Lopez-Ibarra, who owns the dental spa. “We wanted to do something where people felt comfortable in the chair.”
We wanted to do something where people felt comfortable in the chair…
The dental spa perks at Tri-City Dental Care include aromatherapy, calm music, and loads of movies to watch.
“It’s nice that when you come to a place like this, you’re not looking toward that chair, you’re looking forward to what you’re going to experience. It throws off the edge,” Suarez added.
Not Your Usual Forms to Fill Out
Among the first practices to experiment with a spa-like experience is Double Take Dental in Orem, Utah. Along with the types of things above, Double Take Dental supplies bottled water, a warm towel, a stress ball and a cool eye mask.
According to the Daily Herald, patients who come in for an exam, to have their teeth cleaned, or to have other work done fill out an “amenities card” to tailor their visit.
“Every time someone new comes in, they look at the card, and say, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ For many, we almost have to encourage them to pick amenities,” said Double Take Dental office manager Jordan Davis.
Patients are More Willing to Make the Trip
The idea for the spa-like style emerged when the practice decided it had to set itself apart from competitors. Proof of success? How about patients who travel far beyond their hometown solely for this type of service?
Larry Blocker, for example, flies to Orem from Southern California to treat an ongoing oral condition twice a year.
“I flew in last night, and I fly back out tomorrow. I came just to have this done,” he told the Daily Herald. “Flying here and flying back tells you how much I like it.”
Patty Cox drives nearly 120 miles to Double Take, a trip the 66-year-old says she’ll make “until I die.”
More Talking, Less Rushing
Double Take’s patient-first style makes the staff more relaxed as well. This is due in part to the decreased significance of time limits in appointments.
Dr. Cameron Blake has worked in a number of practices and says they all felt rushed. That kept him from getting to know his patients and answering their questions.
How to Choose a Dentist – With something as important as choosing a dentist, it’s vital you make a well-informed choice.
“Here I can take the time to explain things to my patients without the rush to get to the next patient. I can take time to focus on their needs and concerns. I want them to have knowledge about all options available, so they can make an educated decision, and feel good about their decision and its result,” Dr. Black said.
With more and more practices popping up, you can only expect patient experience to become an even bigger priority for dentists looking to cement loyalty and brand awareness.
Know someone who would love to try a dental spa? Go ahead — share!
Read next: 4 Most Overlooked Oral Health Problems
The benefits of seeing your dentist every six months stretch far beyond simply having healthier, better-looking teeth. Oral health is directly connected to your overall wellbeing. Every time you make a dentist appointment, your chances of enjoying the future increase.
The truth is, some of life’s best rewards will most likely go to people with good oral health. Here are just five rewards, all of which are much harder to get if you don’t take care of your teeth:
1. A Longer Life
When you see your dentist often, you lower your risk for a large range of ills. If left untreated, oral bacteria causes gum disease and tooth decay. It can even enter the blood and spread plaque through the body.
Depending on your family history, this could put you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia, and cancer. It can even lead to diseases like stroke, Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Here’s the thing, though. Oral bacteria are incredibly easy to eliminate. Your dentist can help you to stave off these diseases through the benefits of regular exams and cleanings. That is, as long as you manage plaque build up by keeping your regular dentist appointments.
2. Higher Income
Speaking of benefits, research has shown that people with great teeth and smiles are more likely to earn higher salaries and get more job opportunities than people who seem to view their smile as less of a priority. One study used fake job interviews and found that those who had the best smiles were viewed as more confident and skilled.
Learn more: Dental Inequality in America
This isn’t much of a surprise, though. It’s only natural for someone with good oral health to be seen as serious, disciplined, and concerned about his or her effect on others. So, if you want to make your dream job a reality, it can help to keep up with regular dental visits.
3. More Money in the Bank
People with good oral health tend to have lower bills as they get older. The cost of regular dental visits to prevent problems is a fraction of the cost for the type of reactive care patients who have advanced gum disease may need.
Infographic: Prevent vs. Repair – See why it pays to invest in protecting your teeth.
4. Less Stress
When you work to address oral health problems head on, there is less need to worry about the state of your teeth. People who never skip the dentist also have to worry less about certain foods or beverages causing pain or long-term damage.
With some types of oral health issues, cold or hot foods or drinks can be a problem. When you see your dentist often, she can help you to manage the effects of sugar, alcohol and caffeine, which may be the cause. Lastly, if you have a lot of stress, your dentist will know, and be able to tell you, what you can do to help.
5. Better Love Life
Not only will people who take care of their teeth stay attractive to their partners, but they will also have less difficulty finding romantic partners. In fact, a 2013 survey of nearly 5,500 single adults ages 21 and older revealed straight, white teeth to be the quality single men and women look for most when choosing a mate.
When you visit the dentist every 6 months, you won’t be as worried about your partner seeking greener pastures. And who knows? You may even be able to win over the object of your affections, regardless of your age.
How Much Brighter Could Your Future Be?
Sounds like a happy life, right? You can gain these rewards and a lot more if you simply go to the dentist and follow through with their advice and care.
Missing just one or two appointments might not seem like a big deal. But as you age, you may grow more conscious of how your teeth look and feel. So think of your long-term health and financial strength, and stick to your regular dental exams!
Read next: 4 Most Overlooked Oral Health Problems
Dental professionals are looking out for “Generation Z” kids. They’re urging parents to take infants to the dentist and warning of the outcomes of postponing their first visit.
Until recently, a first dental visit traditionally took place at age three or four. That’s because there was little concern over baby teeth that would eventually fall out. However, it’s not uncommon for kids to develop cavities as young as five or six.
Therefore, dentists around the world are now recommending that toddlers visit the dentist when they are only six months to one year old.
Why Generation Z Should Start Seeing the Dentist Early
South Carolina pediatric dentist Dr. Thom Atkins told the Aiken Standard that the earlier a child visits the dentist, the better his or her oral health will be as they age.
Learn more: 5 Positive Oral Health Benefits
“We like to see children earlier than most people anticipate,” he said. “We prefer to see them within six months of the first tooth coming in or by the age of 1, whichever comes first.”
Early dental visits can identify problems before they evolve. In addition, this allows kids to learn to feel comfortable in a dentist’s office.
Kids can become frightened of the dentist if their first visit involves treating cavities or rotting teeth. Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at England’s Royal College of Surgeons, says that’s only natural.
“If a first dental visit results in a stressful, traumatic experience, this could have a serious life-long effect on a child’s willingness to engage in the dental process,” he told the Telegraph.
Learn more: Dental Anxiety and Kids: Parents, Caregivers, Dentists All Play a Role
Parents Can Hold Infants
Parents hold their children while the dentist performs an examination and applies fluoride. This, surprisingly, doesn’t cause discomfort in most young patients.
According to the Aiken Standard, studies have proven that children who receive fluoride applications during infancy are less likely to develop oral health problems. Moreover, avoiding cavities can save parents a good deal of money.
Early Visits Help Parent’s as Well
Additionally, much of these early visits are devoted to informing parents about brushing and flossing routines. Parents can also learn about the potentially harmful effects of pacifiers, sippy cups and sugary snacks.
New research from England shows that most parents still believe children shouldn’t visit the dentist until they are three or four. Within the last year, 80% of one to two-year-olds in England did not visit the dentist. This may explain why 9,220 tooth extractions on children aged one to four were performed throughout the same period. Of these extractions, 48 involved infants who were less than a year old.
Most of the extractions were attributed to tooth decay, the most common reason young British children find themselves in the hospital.
Along with many other widespread dental problems, tooth decay is highly preventable. The key is ensuring patients practice good oral hygiene. These annual figures mark a 24% increase in tooth extractions on British children aged one to four over the past ten years.
Read next: Infant Dental Care: Tips for Caring for Your Infant’s Teeth
If you have a BFF – a “best furry friend,” that is – then you’ve probably noticed the trend in insurance policies for pets. Well, there’s another trend many pet care professionals would love you to adopt: daily preventive dental care for dogs and cats.
The American Pet Products Association estimated that U.S. spending on pet-related expenses topped $55.53 billion in 2013, and nearly a quarter of that amount ($14.21 billion) went toward veterinary care. Both numbers represent spending increases over 2012.
If you have pets, then you’ve probably seen a few pet store and vet bills as well. And like many pet owners, you may be responding to rising costs with a focus on prevention.
Pet dental emergencies are on the rise. Preventing pets from landing in the veterinary ER is a major focal point of National Pet Dental Health Month, which takes place in February. So there’s no better time to draw attention to proper oral care for pets.
However, as the American Veterinary Medical Association (one of the sponsors of the month-long event) reminds pet owners, “While February is National Pet Dental Health Month, dental health should be a daily habit for pet owners all year long.”
Making pet dental care a daily habit
A daily habit? When you think about it, it makes good sense. Like dental care for people, taking care of your pets’ teeth is very important, both for their dental health and for their overall health. Numerous pet health issues have been associated with poor oral health.
But how do you make dog dental care or cat dental care a daily habit? When it comes to establishing a new habit, preparation is key. With that simple but powerful principle in mind, here are some ways you can get prepared to make pet dental care part of your daily routine.
Set a regular time
To get into the habit of taking care of your pet’s teeth every day, choose a time that meets your needs. Plan your pet’s oral care at the time that will be most convenient for you.
If you have to rush off to work in the morning, set aside time in the evening. If mornings are better for you, do it then. Whatever you decide, be sure you set yourself up to succeed.
Plan to devote at least 5 minutes to your pet’s dental routine. It may also help to pick a time when your pet is normally in a more restful frame of mind, such as after a long walk or play session.
Choose a comfortable place
To help you succeed in making dental care a part of your daily routine, choose a comfortable place where you can have your pet’s full attention. If you’ve chosen a regular time, you may already have a specific place in mind. If not, think about a place where you and your pet already spend quiet time together.
If the two of you enjoy snuggling on the couch in front of the TV, that may be the ideal place for daily dental care. In the habit of spending time together on the back porch before coming in from a run? Make that the spot for your dental date each day.
The point is: tap into the good vibe you and your pet already associate with a favorite time and place to make daily dental care an enjoyable part of the time you get to spend together.
Keep it together
Finally, to keep your new habit on track, get organized. You don’t want to spend any extra time getting your supplies together or searching for something that’s missing. Avoid distractions by making a kit of everything you’ll need for your pet’s dental care regimen. Then, keep the kit in the location where it will be used.
Your pet’s daily dental care kit doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy specialty products designed for pets, or you may use simple household items like a bit of gauze instead of a toothbrush or a paste of baking soda and water instead of toothpaste.
Just be aware that there is one thing no pet dental kit should ever contain: human toothpaste. Some ingredients can make cats and dogs sick. To stay on the safe side, never use human dental products for your pet.
Learn more about pet dental care
Just as a daily dental care routine helps to keep you and your family healthy, daily dental care can be a great first step toward protecting your pet’s health. But like oral care for humans, it’s really only a start. To learn more, talk with your veterinarian.
Ask your vet about the specific items your pet dental care kit should contain. And while you’re at it, ask about regular dental checkups, any dental warning signs you should be on the lookout for, and what oral conditions or symptoms should prompt you to call for an appointment right away.
Do you brush your pet’s teeth regularly? What tips can you share?
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Learn about human oral care and dental insurance basics in the Dental Resources section.
Would you let someone other than a dentist fill a tooth or perform an “uncomplicated” extraction? Sounds like a job for a dentist, doesn’t it? After all, dentists in the US have met very high educational and licensing requirements, and well – it’s your mouth we’re talking about.
Sadly, millions across the country don’t even have the choice. Why?
The US dentist shortage
In many parts of the nation, there is an uneven distribution of dentists, which is having serious consequences. A new dental school was opened in Maine in 2013. One of its missions? To “reverse the shortage of dentists in rural parts of the state, a trend that is expected to worsen,” NBC News San Diego reported
And Maine is hardly alone. People in rural parts of many states are coping with the dearth of dentists as well as they can, often by putting off or doing without necessary dental care.
Learn more: Dental Degrees
Kaiser Health News reported early last year that 16% of Americans live in areas with an insufficient number of dentists. Federal guidelines, according to Kaiser, call for one dentist to every 5,000 people.
Here’s another way of looking at it: Approximately 45 million people in the US reside in areas that are experiencing a dentist shortage. And where there’s a shortage, it’s very hard to get dental care regardless of income or insurance.
Free dental care events
Dentists are working to address the problem. Though they may not be able to be in every neighborhood across the country, thousands of dentists each year give their time and resources to provide free dental care to those in need.
In addition to individual dental practices that open their doors to those in need, state and national dental associations, organizations like Remote Area Medical and Mission of Mercy, and many private donors work tirelessly to provide free dental care events. One such event was held in Seattle in October. It helped nearly 2,000 people over four days, according to The Seattle Times. In New York, however, city authorities cancelled a similar event in November citing public health concerns.
And remember, many of these types of events are not just about providing care for the uninsured. Across the US, insured and uninsured alike lack easy access to dental care due to the shortage or uneven distribution of dentists.
Dental therapists or mid-level dental practitioners
Dental care must be provided by licensed practitioners. But today, there are simply too few dentists to meet the needs in many parts of the country.
Even with more dental schools, future access to basic oral care isn’t guaranteed. In fact, the problem may grow worse. That’s because new dentists are more likely than ever to specialize. In 2012, the number of active, newly licensed dentists who were specialists was up 6% over 2008, NBC San Diego reported.
One possible cure for America’s dentist shortage may be on the horizon. There is a growing movement to create a new “mid-level” type of dental practitioner called a dental therapist. Proponents of this plan say dental therapists can help to increase care and free up dentists to do other, more critical work.
In most states today, dentists alone are able to do certain dental procedures, like fillings and “uncomplicated” extractions. That is changing, however. Dental therapists have been providing mid-level procedures in Alaska for the past 10 years.
Minnesota and Maine have recently approved the use of these mid-level dental practitioners. In addition, legislation around the use of dental therapists is being considered in California, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington.
Dental therapists are highly trained health care professionals. They typically are selected from their home communities, educated and then return to serve their communities…
In an opinion piece in favor of considering dental therapists in New Mexico, which was published by the Santa Fe New Mexican, Howard Rhoads, DDS explains, “Dental therapists are highly trained health care professionals. They typically are selected from their home communities, educated and then return to serve their communities…. They don’t do everything a dentist does, but they provide many of the most commonly needed services, starting with dental education, simple fillings and non-surgical extractions.”
Community Catalyst, a national, non-profit consumer advocacy organization, released a report in 2013 that found that where they are allowed, dental therapists are not only increasing access to dental care for children and low-income adults, they are also helping to reduce costs for dental practices.
Retail to the rescue?
Walmart continues to open health clinics within its retail locations, as NBCNews reported in August 2014. Some people predict that they or another big-box chain will eventually open in-store clinics that will offer dental services to underserved areas.
Walmart did try opening dental clinics in stores back in 2012. However, the company was sued over the idea in 2013.
In any event, for the idea of dental clinics in big-box stores to succeed on a national level, a retailer would still need to lure dentists to work in areas of the country that they have traditionally avoided – or fill many positions with a different type of oral care provider, such as a dental therapist.
Need for accreditation standards
Dental therapists are a reality today, but their use is out of the question in most of the country. Educational programs like the one at the University of Washington, which prepares dental therapists for work in Alaska, have set their own high standards for the therapists they train. For more states to open their doors to these mid-level practitioners, the next hurdle to overcome is the adoption of national standards for accreditation.
…the potential of dental therapy education programs deserved quickly adopted, reasonable accreditation standards…
In documents filed with the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in late November, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both shared their beliefs that “the potential of dental therapy education programs deserved quickly adopted, reasonable accreditation standards…”. CODA will meet in February to consider proposed standards for dental therapy education programs.
Now, back to our original question: Would you let someone other than a dentist fill a tooth or perform an extraction? If so, do you feel more states should follow Alaska, Minnesota, and Maine and approve the use of dental therapists? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Sources and recommended reading:
- BringMeTheNews: Free massive dental clinic in Mankato to attract thousands
- DrBicuspid.com: ADA brief on barriers to care misleading
- EurekAlert! First analysis of dental therapists finds increase in access for children, low-income adults
- Huffington Post: Dear New York City’s Uninsured: Screw You, Love Governor Cuomo
- NBCNews: Big Box Health Care: Are You Ready for Walmart Care Clinics?
- NBC San Diego, California Faced with Dentist Shortage: Study
- Santa Fe New Mexican: Reader View: State needs better dental care
- Seattle Times: Guest Opinion: Don’t wait for dental care to become a crisis
- USA Today: More states consider licensing mid-level dental care providers
Rotten teeth, tooth decay, and gum diseases like gingivitis or periodontitis are usually the result of poor oral care. These health conditions cost far more to repair than to prevent.
You may not be able to kill two birds with one stone, but when it comes to oral health there is one very simple and affordable thing you can do to avoid these serious – and potentially expensive – problems. That is: take preventive oral hygiene seriously.
Tooth decay and gum diseases get their start with a substance called plaque. Preventive oral hygiene includes daily efforts to eliminate plaque and prevent its build up. It also includes regular checkups and professional cleanings to remove plaque and tartar that can build up on teeth despite dedicated daily care.
What is plaque?
Plaque is the name for a sticky and translucent substance that is constantly being produced by our mouths. The bacteria in plaque consume sugars that are contained in various types of food. This creates acids that attack the surface of the teeth and toxins that may attack the bone beneath the gums.
The acids assault tooth enamel for 20 or more minutes after you have sugary food or beverages. Eventually, the acids may begin to destroy the enamel, which is how tooth decay gets a foothold, so to speak.
Plaque can also penetrate below the gum line, where the toxins can threaten the underlying bone.
Plaque can also penetrate below the gum line, where the toxins can threaten the underlying bone. The result is gingivitis or periodontitis. Obviously, neither situation – a rotten tooth or poor gum health – is high on anyone’s wish list.
Treatments and costs
Not least among the reasons for avoiding tooth decay or gum disease is the expense involved in treatment. In either case, treatment options depend on the severity of the problem, and as the severity mounts, so do the costs for professional care.
…as the severity mounts, so do the costs for professional care.
Milder cases of tooth decay may be treated by simply using a fluoride-based treatment. If cavities have developed, however, a filling will be required. More severe cases may require that a dentist fit the tooth with a crown, perform a root canal operation, or even pull the tooth altogether.
Gum disease is likewise increasingly more expensive to deal with the longer it is ignored or left undiagnosed and allowed to progress. If a milder case of gum disease is caught in time, patients may be able to simply brush and floss their way back to optimal health. More serious cases will require professional cleaning by a dental hygienist to get rid of built up plaque. A severe case of gum disease may require antibiotics or even surgery.
Preventing tooth decay and gum disease
Repair or prevent? Well, we think it’s a “no brainer” – but then, consider the source…
If you really need any more convincing, try plugging the phrases “Oral Conditions and Diseases” or “Tooth Conditions and Disorders” into your browsers’ search bar and see what images come up. YUCKA!!!
But, if you’re already convinced about the power of prevention – and could use a brush up on oral care basics – check out this overview of basic dental care in our blog archives.
While you’re at it, why not call to schedule your next dental checkup?
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