8 Reasons You Shouldn’t Avoid the Dentist

Modern dental care is all about prevention and comfort.

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Nothing to Fear

We all know somebody who looks forward to going to the dentist. You know, the kind of person who gets positively giddy at the thought of plopping down in that big reclining chair. Then there’s the rest of us—for whom a trip to the dentist ranks right up there with visiting our accountants at tax time. But the truth is, there are lots of compelling reasons for seeing your dentist at least once a year, and ideally, every six months.

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Avoid Major Dental Work

With regular checkups, your dentist can spot early signs of decay at a stage when the damage can usually be reversed, which means you’ll avoid the dreaded drill. “When it comes to cavities, it’s not an all or nothing situation,” says Fotinos Panagakos, DMD, a licensed dentist and Global Director of Scientific Affairs at Colgate-Palmolive. “The tooth enamel gets broken down over time, but your dentist can detect it early and take steps to reverse that process with various fluoride products, so your tooth will go back to normal and you’ll avoid a cavity.” You could end up saving lots of time and money.

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Protect Your Heart

More and more studies are showing a link between gum disease and serious health concerns, like heart disease and stroke, says Jonathan B. Levine, DMD, an associate professor at the NYU School of Dentistry. Research suggests that gum disease acts like a messenger that arrives ahead of other types of inflammation in the body. "What we've come to realize is that what’s healthy for your mouth is also healthy for your body,” says Dr. Levine. With regular cleaning and checkups, dentists can identify and treat gum disease in its early stages, or even prevent it from developing in the first place.

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Keep Sugars in Check

The relationship between diabetes and periodontal (gum) disease works both ways, says Dr. Panagakos. “If someone has diabetes, periodontal disease can add to the challenge of controlling blood glucose levels, and if you have poor glucose control, it can predispose you to developing gum disease,” he explains. Bottom line: If you’re one of the 25 million Americans with diabetes, or if you’re at high risk for diabetes, make regular dental visits a top priority.

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Beat Cancer

Most people know about annual mammograms, colonoscopies and Pap smears to detect cancer, but many are surprised to learn that dentists provide an important cancer screening, too. When a dentist looks all around your mouth and asks you to stick out your tongue, he or she is looking for signs of oral cancer, such as a lump or a white or red patch of skin. This exam is especially important for those who use tobacco products or drink alcohol because they're at higher risk of developing oral cancers. Regular exams can help catch these cancers early and give you the best chance of a successful treatment.

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Feel Calm and in Control

If a bad experience years ago is keeping you away, you’ll be happy to hear that many dentists are now more focused on patient comfort. Dentists can prescribe a mild sedative that makes your appointment seem quick and easy, and new laser dentistry is virtually pain-free. “The biggest single change in dentistry has been that we give patients that control,” says Dr. Wolff. “A good dentist will always stop immediately if a patient feels pain or they’re uncomfortable in any way. And if your dentist isn’t doing that, it’s time to find a new one.”

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Treat Dry Mouth

Regular checkups are especially important if you’re taking a medication that causes dry mouth as a side effect, says Mark S. Wolff, DDS, professor and chair of the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at New York University College of Dentistry. “Saliva helps prevent tooth decay because it’s a source of natural remineralization,” says Dr. Wolff. Antihistamines, blood pressure medications abd antidepressants are common drugs that can cause dry mouth and increase your risk of tooth decay -- not to mention bad breath.

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Get Completely Clean

When it comes to at-home oral care, you’re an A+ student. You brush twice a day for two minutes, and follow it up with a meticulous flossing that would make your dentist beam with pride. So you don’t really need a professional cleaning, right? Not so fast. No matter how well you clean your teeth at home, it won’t replace the cleanings you get in the dental chair. That’s especially true when it comes to cleaning under the gum line, which is where bacteria and tartar can build up over time and increase your risk of gum disease.

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Look Your Best

Grocery stores and pharmacies carry several kinds of teeth whitening strips, toothpastes and rinses, but you’re likely to get the best result from a whitening treatment at the dentist, says Dr. Levine. “The results you can get in a professional office can be very hard to duplicate with over-the-counter products,” says Dr. Levine. In addition, the OTC whitening trays and gels can be harmful if used incorrectly. “The whitening results can often take weeks and weeks of use at home, and meanwhile you run the risk of damaging the soft tissue in your mouth.”

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