Although the percentage of Americans who lack medical insurance has for the past several years been a hot-button issue in the news, on the election trail and in the halls of Congress, the percentage of people who don’t have proper health insurance is much lower (12.9%, according to Gallup) than the percentage who don’t have a dental plan — 40 percent of Americans as of the end of 2012, according to the National Association of Dental Plans.
So what would you do if one of the best dental insurance options in the world would only cost you an average of $10 to $12 a month out of pocket? Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Because the best insurance for your teeth is for you to practice good oral hygiene.
A tube of toothpaste: about $5. A big bottle of antimicrobial mouthwash: about $5. A roll of dental floss, waxed or non-waxed, mint-flavored or not: around $2. Use those products every day, faithfully, and you can prevent cavities, unsightly discolored teeth, broken teeth, gum disease, loosened teeth and missing teeth.
In short, you can prevent everything that expensive restorative dentistry procedures would address, for just $10 to $12 a month. Does it still sound too good to be true? Of course it doesn’t. You know it’s true.
Your mouth is a house.
It’s a house for your smile, anyways. Unfortunately, it’s also a home for cavity-causing bacteria that are always trying to break your smile down. They always want in. They never stop coming. It’s up to you to keep them out.
What do you do to maintain your home’s value? You clean it regularly. You keep the walls and roof in good repair. You check for loose shingles and clean the gutters every spring and fall. And you insure it.
So if your mouth is your smile’s home — and your smile is something valuable to you — why wouldn’t you be so proactive in maintaining it?
Restorative dentistry is an expensive, involved last resort. How expensive?
Very, if you regularly need restorative care. The average out-of-pocket cost of filling a cavity is almost $200, according to an estimate by OKCopay.
And if the decay has extended to the root of the tooth? Prepare for a $700 to $900 root canal. Compare that to $150 spent yearly on oral hygiene supplies, based on our $12 per month estimate above, plus a few extra dollars to buy a new soft-bristled toothbrush every few months.
Allowing small oral health issues to go unchecked and untreated is a bit like waiting until your home’s roof falls in and its walls bow before you lift a finger to maintain it.
Daily tooth brushing, flossing and antimicrobial mouthwash rinsing is akin to keeping your home neat and tidy. Scheduled cleanings with your dentist are like deep spring cleaning for your home.
And while you’re at the dentist for your cleaning, your hygienist and dentist will inspect your teeth and gums for developing problems, make easy repairs where needed and keep your mouth in good order — just like you inspect your roof and gutters twice yearly and call a repairman in if a small leak or crack develops.
Practicing good oral hygiene, then, helps you avoid major reconstruction. Major reconstruction is expensive, time consuming and can be painful.
Can an ounce of (cavity) prevention lead to a pound of (bodily) cure?
We’ve talked before about the hypothesized links between poor oral health and serious medical conditions like atherosclerosis, heart disease and cancer.
If those links are real, as some research has suggested, then regular tooth brushing, flossing and rinsing can help you avoid more than an expensive smile reconstruction — they can help to keep you out of the hospital. That means the incentive to practice good oral hygiene extends far beyond avoiding expensive restorative dentistry. Your life may very well be at stake.
Notwithstanding the health warning, hospital stays, medical interventions and ongoing treatment of chronic diseases are much costlier than a day spent in the dentist’s chair. From a purely financial standpoint, it makes better sense to spend money on toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss and mouthwash in order to prevent disease than it does to spend it on treating a disease after it develops.
Don’t let anxiety or scheduling problems keep you from going for regular dental checkups.
Between 9 and 15 percent of Americans report avoiding annual dental checkups and cleanings due to anxiety over being in the dentist’s chair. Many others report that their work and/or personal schedules prevent them from going.
But given the possible implications for your wallet and your overall health, let’s be frank for a moment: you need to get over those hang-ups.
If you get anxiety in the dentist’s chair, many dentists can and will administer a medication to help you sleep or relax during your visit. If your work or home schedule is hectic, take control and build out time to go. Take half a personal day, book a babysitter — just plan ahead.
Practicing good oral hygiene with inexpensive preventative measures — twice-daily brushing, daily flossing, rinsing and gargling with an antimicrobial mouthwash — and going for regular cleanings and checkups will help you keep your smile beautiful, your wallet fat and your body healthy.