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Your Health

Preventive dental care proves key to a healthy smile

For those who aren’t invested in periodic dental maintenance and disease prevention, pain may be the ultimate motivator to initiate a dental relationship.

However, pain tends to reflect that the disease is in its advanced stages with a less favorable prognosis and a more invasive, expensive treatment option. I often hear from new patients that they’ve postponed scheduling an appointment because they didn’t have dental insurance and were awaiting this benefit.

I would like to present a realistic picture of what dental insurance is and what it is not. Unlike typical medical insurance, dental insurance is not “coverage.” It is designed to offset the costs of dental treatment, and for people requiring extensive dentistry, it is nothing more than a “dental coupon.”

Many of these dental co-payment plans allow the same maximum benefit per year they allowed when they began in the early 1970s. In other words, reflecting inflation, a typical $1,500 benefit is equal to approximately $140 in today’s dollars. Had insurance companies increased their benefits on a year-by-year basis, reflecting inflation, this $1,500 benefit would be equivalent to more than $5,000 today.

Some patients who come in for an initial examination after many years of neglect expect that now, equipped with dental insurance, they will get healthy. Depending on their state of disease, there often is not enough benefit in the plan to get them beyond the disease and back to health. There’s no doubt that dentistry can be costly, especially when there’s a lot of disease to treat.

Unfortunately, I often find patients quickly hitting their insurance maximum and then waiting an entire year to pursue further treatment. Of course, the disease itself doesn’t delay in causing more damage. For patients with higher dental risk, this behavior can make achieving dental health an impossibility. They remain in a perpetual state of disease.

The power of protecting you against this negative cycle, whether you have dental insurance or not, lies with prevention. Most dental disease is caused by the presence of bacterial plaque. It degrades tooth structure in the form of cavities but also leads to the inflammatory processes in the gums and bone, gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Understanding what you personally can do to remove plaque is the key to prevention. Just going to the dentist for periodic maintenance is not enough. It is what you’re doing every day out of the dental chair that matters the most.

In my experience, the majority of patients (adults and children) could benefit from and are receptive to receiving toothbrushing and dental-flossing coaching techniques from their dental professionals. People are not born with this knowledge. Many dental offices are so busy treating disease on a large volume of patients that they cannot or do not devote any time to preventive education.

It seems that today’s dentistry continues to place a heavier emphasis on technical treatments to “fix” disease and market impressive gadgetry. There’s no question that providing the best treatment available and a commitment to constantly better technical skills is critical for every dental professional’s growth. It’s also true that many modern technologies enable us to provide better treatment.

However, when I sit down with my new patients face to face and ask them what they want for their dental future, it never includes, “I want more fillings, crowns or root canal treatment.” Unanimously, people want to avoid tooth loss, avoid problems, avoid pain and maintain what they have.

In my experience, people want no dentistry and more freedom from the dentist. If you are receiving ongoing treatment for dental problems with no sense as to why the problems occurred and what to do to prevent them in the future, the most significant aspect of your dental care isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Prevention is power.

Dr. Ken Schweifler practices dentistry at 802 Altos Oaks Drive in Los Altos. For more information, call 941-2166 or visit www.dentistlosaltos.com.

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