One in three participants in a 2014 Gallup poll of Americans revealed that they hadn’t been to the dentist for at least a year.
Although you probably already know that your dentist wants you to come in for your annual cleaning, here are eight other pieces of information your dentist and hygienist want us to pass on to you.
1. You need to think about health benefits, cosmetic benefits, and your dental insurance benefits.
Dentists and hygienists certainly possess troves of knowledge the average person doesn’t, but they aren’t insurance experts. When they have to stop and check out insurance coverage for a patient, it takes valuable time, potentially throwing the rest of their day off schedule.
Damian Dachowski, DMD, says, “People come in for an appointment without knowing what their insurance covers. They think we have a crystal ball that tells us everyone’s insurance information. We don’t. And we need to find out what’s covered before we can do anything.”
2. Your oral hygiene can impact your baby and your heart.
Sure, it seems silly to act like our mouths exist in a vacuum, not affecting any other parts of our bodies. Unfortunately, many people treat their dental hygiene in precisely that way.
According to Kimberly Harms, DDS, dental health issues can lead to other surprisingly serious health conditions. “There’s been research that links gum disease and low birthweight babies,” she says, referencing a 2010 study.
Harms also mentions a 2006 study that shows a link between the bacteria associated with gum disease and increased risk of heart disease.
Yes, that’s right—dental health is literally as serious as a heart attack.
3. X-ray radiation is real, but it’s way less serious than this.
While it’s normal to be concerned about health and safety, those concerns are easily misplaced. For example, when you combine anxiety about going to the dentist with an all-too-common distrust of technologies we don’t understand, the results can be less than rational.
In a Buzzfeed discussion, a dental assistant responding under the username laurenrae1211 says, “People who think that one or two X-rays will instantly cause cancer: a full set of X-rays (18 films) is comparable to the radiation you receive from a 30 minute flight in a plane. You are much worse off if we are unable to detect decay or any other issue because you refuse X-rays.”
Bryan Tervo, DDS, seconds that, using another point of reference when it comes to radiation.
“A lot of patients are worried that dental X-rays can cause cancer, but if you’re outside for an hour, you’re exposed to more radiation than you’d get from a full set of dental X-rays. What I worry about is that if I don’t take an X-ray, I might miss something serious.”
4. Just because you don’t feel like you have socks on your teeth doesn’t mean they’re clean.
Many medical conditions are obvious (if your arm’s broken, you’re probably going to know), but that’s not always the case with dental health, especially when it comes to plaque.
Because bacterial plaque—a main cause of tooth decay and other dental diseases—is often extremely thin, it can coat your teeth without being noticed.
According to Harms, “That bacterial plaque sticks to the front, back, side, in between and right under gums.”
And that’s why regular and thorough dental hygiene regimen is enormously important. “The best way to fight plaque is brushing for two minutes twice a day and flossing properly once a day,” she says.
5. Dry mouth can have serious consequences for your pearly whites.
Harms says, “Many people don’t know how important saliva is for cleaning our teeth and fighting cavities.”
While it’s obvious that saliva helps wash away larger food particles, that also occurs on a micro scale. Additionally, saliva neutralizes acids that eat through tooth enamel, helps to repair teeth, and even has antibacterial properties.
If you regularly find yourself with a dry mouth—which can be caused by certain medications—chances are your teeth are worse off because of it.
According to Harms, “You need added protection or attention to teeth cleaning if you have dry mouth.” While numerous rinses and toothpastes are available that contain ingredients to increase saliva production, there’s another much more straightforward solution: Drink more water.
6. Fluoride is fabulous, even if kids hate how the treatments taste.
Exposure to fluoride via water, toothpaste, or some sort of mouth rinse has been shown to decrease tooth decay by up to 40 percent. Similarly, the occurrence of tooth decay is significantly greater in geographic areas where fluoride hasn’t been added to drinking water, a process known as fluoridation.
On fluoride, Harms says, “There’s a lot of debate about fluoride, but researchers have proven that fluoride prevents decay.”
In contrast to many other preventive dental health measures, which are overwhelmingly topical, ingesting fluoride sends it into the bloodstream. From there, it can help to maintain dental health from the inside out.
Harms says, “It’s nature’s cavity fighter.”
7. There’s no substitute for floss.
According to the results of a study published by the American Dental Association (ADA), only 40 percent of Americans floss daily.
What’s even more disconcerting? About 20 percent of respondents reported that they don’t ever floss.
Despite these dismal numbers, dentists and hygienists still emphasize the enormous importance of flossing for your dental health.
A dental professional going by the username emilypicklesk in the Buzzfeed discussion says, “If you don’t floss every day, bacteria left between the teeth, plus acid from foods (sugars and carbs), lower the pH in the mouth to the point where demineralization of the enamel occurs.”
As far as exactly when to floss, she continues, “Although it’s easier to tie one habit in with another, I tell my patients they don’t HAVE to floss right after brushing. Floss in the shower, floss while you’re watching TV, or heck, pick up some floss and use it while you’re doing pretty much anything.”
While it’s likely easier to remember to floss if you make it a part of a daily dental hygiene regimen, ultimately, she says, “The main goal with flossing is to disturb the bacteria between your teeth so it doesn’t have an opportunity to adhere to the surface and cause damage. So go disturb that bacteria!”
Buzzfeed user baileyr49eber7f1 found a shorter and more colorful way to sum of the necessity of flossing, saying, “Not flossing is like wiping your butt cheeks and not the crack.” Uh, right.
8. Blood in the sink? Something’s seriously wrong.
User patriciah415412f37 on Buzzfeed says of the flossing-related bleeding that she sees in her office, “We didn’t make you bleed. You not flossing and developing gingivitis from poor home care is what made you bleed. Floss daily and I guarantee you your next cleaning will be a lot easier.”
Outside of that all-too-common scenario (which is still an indicator of less-than-optimal dental health), bleeding from the gums is a sign that something is wrong.
As Chicago dentist Ron Schefdore says, “If your hands bled when you washed them, you’d run to the doctor. But in the public’s mind, bleeding gums are okay. Unless you’re really whaling away with your brush, if your gums bleed even a little, that’s periodontal disease, period.”