Here’s a hard fact to chew on: Adults between the ages of 20 and 64 average losing about seven permanent teeth, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).
Lost teeth are just one of the many costs that can be incurred by neglecting your oral health. Dental professionals say a lack of preventative care by patients is often at the root of dental problems; only 37 percent of adults participating in the NIDCR survey reported visiting a dentist in the previous year.
“You can eliminate a lot of pain by being proactive about your dental health,” says Dr. Ramón Durán (www.drramonduran.com), a dentist in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and author of Your Best Smile … For a Lifetime: Achieving Your Optimal Oral Health. “Taking preventative measures is vital if you want to save money and, more importantly, save your teeth and stay healthy.
There are many signs you need to see your dentist, yet often people ignore oral issues until the pain forces them into action.
“By then, the conditions have likely progressed to the point where more involved and expensive treatments are necessary,” Durán says. “Along with the many dental-related problems, there are serious diseases and health complications that are linked to poor dental health.”
Durán lists five ways neglecting your oral health can cost you – not just in money but also in medical issues:
- Implants. These are the expensive replacements for those teeth you lost. They can run anywhere from $1,500 to $6,000 for a single tooth. Durán links implants with what he calls “opportunity costs” – the choice one relinquishes when making a poor dental health decision. “Deciding not to brush at least twice a day and floss, opting for sugary foods and snacks, not visiting your dentist twice a year – all are opportunity costs,” Durán says. “Your mouth is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, and if neglected, one the most direct results is tooth loss.”
- Jobs. Yes, yellowed, missing or crooked teeth can cost you a job. An American Dental Association survey found young adults and low-income adults agreed that the appearance of their mouth affected their ability to interview. One reason: they were too embarrassed to smile. ”Like it or not, we’re often judged by our appearance,” Durán says. “We often associate a person’s oral health with some of the social biases we have.”
- Diabetes. The National Institute of Health’s report “Oral Health in America” links periodontitis to diabetes. Periodontitis is the inflammation of the tissue around the teeth, often causing shrinkage of the gums and loosening of the teeth. “Reports have suggested it’s a two-way street for these diseases,” Durán says. “Periodontal disease may have a negative impact on glycemic control.”
- Heart disease and stroke. “Certain bacteria that thrive in dental infections are being identified as potentially linked to heart disease,” Durán says. “Bacteria or viruses in the mouth can get directly into the bloodstream, with the possibility of causing blood clots and narrowing of the arteries.”
- COPD. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, caused by chronic bronchitis, recurrent respiratory infection or emphysema, has been associated with periodontal disease. “This can happen due to bacterial pneumonia living in the mouth and making its way to the airway,” Durán says.
“The cost of choosing not to take proper care of your teeth and gums is greater than many people imagine,” Durán asks. “It could be the cost of an implant, dentures, your overall health – and even your life.”