Are Two Annual Dental Visits One Too Many – or Not Enough?

For decades, conventional wisdom held that certain dental procedures were best practices and were right for all people. You brushed your teeth after every meal (or at least morning and night) flossed daily, and visited the dentist twice a year. At each visit, you got an exam, X-rays and a cleaning. If you were a child, you could add on a fluoride treatment and perhaps sealants on your molar teeth.

However, thanks to advances in molecular medicine, genetics and other areas of research, health care in general (including oral health care) is being transformed from a system of treating disease in a one-size-fits-all manner to one that provides predictive, proactive, preventive and personalized care. Oral health care advances also allows for a more customized and tailored approach to each person’s individual situation.

Sure, basic prevention activities like brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing and drinking fluoridated water regularly is important for all. Based on risk factors, however, some people are considered at higher risk and some at lower risk for developing oral diseases like tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease or oral cancer. Your risk for disease may help you determine what level of more costly professional services may be most beneficial. People with a history of good oral health, good dietary and oral hygiene habits, and no genetic red flags may need to only visit the dentist once a year or less. Conversely, those with a history of disease and other risk factors may need two or more routine visits each year.

A recent study published in the Journal of Dental Research looked at individual’s risk for periodontal disease and concluded that for low-risk individuals, “the association between preventive dental visits (dental cleaning) and tooth loss was not significantly different whether the frequency was once or twice annually.”1 It went on to recommend evaluating genetic tendencies for gum disease with conventional risk factors (smoking and diabetes) when assessing how often a patient needs to visit the dentist.1 While this study looked specifically at gum disease risk, risk factors are also established for other oral problems such as tooth decay and oral cancer.

In response to the JDR study, the American Dental Association released a statement to “remind consumers that the frequency of their regular dental visits should be tailored by their dentists to accommodate for their current oral health status and health history.” 2

For those who are unaware of their personal risk factors, Delta Dental provides an online tool (myDentalScore) that can help you self-assess your level of risk for gum disease, tooth decay and oral cancer. This self-assessment will provide you with valuable information to help you have a good discussion with your dentist about the best mix of self-care and professional care for you as an individual.

Ultimately, Delta Dental encourages consumers to honestly evaluate themselves and seek the kind of dental care that will be most beneficial to their oral health.

Patient Stratification for Preventive Care in Dentistry.  http://jdr.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/06/05/0022034513492336.abstract

2 American Dental Association. American Dental Association Statement on Dental Visits.  http://www.ada.org/8700.aspx

Don’t Pass on Your Dentophobia

Parents who are afraid to visit the dentist may pass the same fear on to their children, possibly keeping them from getting routine dental check-ups that are important to promote healthy teeth and a lifetime of good oral health habits.

That’s one of the key findings from a survey of children’s oral health1 conducted on behalf of Delta Dental, the nation’s leading dental benefits provider. On average, the survey found that nearly 30 percent of children are afraid to visit the dentist. But when their parents also fear the dentist, that number jumped to almost 40 percent. Conversely, just 24 percent of children whose parents are unafraid of the dentist were still fearful of dental visits themselves.

The top reason parents say their children are afraid to visit the dentist is due to painful or sensitive teeth (17 percent). Other explanations include the noise and smell (11 percent), drills and dental equipment (10 percent), and shots and needles (9 percent).

During National Mental Health Month, Delta Dental offers parents and caregivers three simple tips to help children feel more comfortable in the dentist’s chair:

  • Start young: It’s recommended that children visit the dentist within six months of getting their first tooth – and no later than their first birthday. Starting at a young age allows children and parents to establish trust with a dentist and begin a routine of regular dental visits.
  • Keep it simple and positive: If children ask questions before a visit to the dentist, avoid using words that could make them scared, such as drill, shot or filling, or counseling them that it won’t hurt, since they often aren’t aware it could hurt in the first place. Instead, explain that the dentist is simply going to check their smile and count their teeth. Try not to discuss any negative experience that you might have had so your child can form their own opinion through personal experience.
  • Call ahead: Tell the dentist ahead of time that your child may be anxious about the visit. Most pediatric dental offices will have toys or music that children can focus on instead of the appointment itself, helping them relax and making a trip to the dentist a fun and enjoyable experience.

Parents need to help children understand why visiting the dentist is so important and help make their visits as comfortable as possible. Kids who have negative experiences at the dentist may be less inclined to make regular visits as teenagers and grown adults.

1 Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.