Thirty percent of Upstate New York adults did not visit a dentist within the past year, according to the results of a survey commissioned by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. And that’s troubling because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 42% of all adults (and 60% of adults age 65 years and older) have some form of gum disease.
Kids are also negatively impacted by a lack of routine dental care. By age 8, more than half (52%) have had a cavity in their baby teeth, and low-income children are twice as likely to have cavities as higher-income children.
“Regular preventive dental care is not only essential for good oral health, but also general health,” says physician Anna Kanaley, medical director at Excellus BCBS. “Many diseases that affect the entire body often first become apparent as mouth lesions or other oral problems.” More than 90% of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms, reports the Academy of General Dentistry.
Routine dental care identifies issues early when they may be easier to treat. The following health conditions may be identified by a dentist during a routine oral exam:
• GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
• Cancers of the head, neck, mouth and throat
• AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome)
• Autoimmune diseases, including Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus
• Celiac disease
• Chronic kidney disease
Untreated oral disease has a large impact on quality of life and productivity for both children and adults. On average, 34 million school hours are lost each year because of emergency dental care.
In the workplace, more than $45 billion is lost in productivity in the United States each year because of untreated oral disease. Poor dental care even impacts employment, with nearly 18% of all working-age adults, and 29% of those with lower incomes, reporting that the appearance of their mouth and teeth affects their ability to interview for a job.
“Adults, and especially parents, should view routine dental care the same way they do other routine medical care, such as wellness visits, standard immunizations, and screenings,” says Kanaley.
“You shouldn’t think of dental care as just cleanings, and you shouldn’t just go to the dentist when you think something’s wrong.”
The American Dental Association recommends that everyone visit their dentist for an exam and cleaning at least once a year, and preferably once every six months.
“For help finding a dentist who meets your needs, visit your health insurer’s website,” advises Kanaley. “Even if you don’t have dental coverage, your health insurer may be able to connect you with dental health resources.”