When was the last time you went to the dentist? If you're now opening your calendar to check your last appointment, chances are it has been too long. There is no general rule on the regularity that will apply to all patients, not least because we all have different lifestyles. That said, if you are someone who consumes tobacco, drinks alcohol regularly, or if you are in doubt about whether your daily oral hygiene is up to standards, a good rule of thumb is to make a dentist appointment every six months.
For many Americans, the rudimentary costs of seeing a dentist for a routine checkup are manageable. Despite the fact that most dental plans cover 100% of the costs for preventive visits, many Americans appear to lack awareness of their benefits. Even though 80% Americans have access to dental benefits, nearly 35% of adults didn't visit a dentist in 2019, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. For both the 20% of Americans who are either not employed or whose employer’s chosen insurance plan doesn't cover dental care, and the existing insured patients, it would be important to increase competition through subscription models. My colleague Yaël Ossowski has explained the advantages of such subscriptions in the Boston Herald.
Improving America's oral hygiene doesn't just happen through the policy level of increasing competition or, as some argue, through getting the government more involved in the field of healthcare. First and foremost, oral hygiene happens at home through brushing and flossing. Unfortunately, that is where some Americans' habits are falling short.
A 2021 study commissioned by the American Association of Endodontists showed that 21% of respondents failed to brush their teeth in the morning, 23% never floss, and 28% didn't schedule a dental appointment the entire year. A 2016 analysis of 5,000 men and women had found that 32 percent of Americans never floss. This is all paired with headlines of less representative surveys showing that Americans mostly only brush once a day, if at all.
A factor that is underestimated by many is the effectiveness of chewing sugar-free gum. The American Dental Association says that while chewing sugar-free gum is no substitute for brushing your teeth, those gums sweetened by non-cavity-causing sweeteners such as aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol or mannitol can help prevent tooth decay. The saliva produced through chewing washes away food debris and neutralizes acids, and also carries with it more calcium and phosphate to help strengthen tooth enamel.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), known for its cautious assessments of product claims, seconded the assessment that sugar-free gum improved tooth mineralization and thus has overall oral health benefits. It remains important to reiterate that sugar-free gum is in no way a substitute for regular oral hygiene; however, it is an adjunct to oral hygiene that makes it more than just a lifestyle but in fact, a wellness product.
Oral hygiene is an important factor in our daily lives. Tooth decay and lasting problems with teeth plague many Americans, burdening them with high dental costs. Both on a policy level and on an individual level, a lot remains to be done to improve the oral health of all citizens.
Bill Wirtz is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Consumer Choice Center, a millennial consumer advocacy group that protects consumer choice, evidence-based policy-making, and innovative solutions to global problems. It empowers consumers to demand affordability and availability of products in all areas, ranging from mobility and digital services to health and food products.
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