While the economic crisis may have many necessities vying for scarce funds, skipping dental visits may be more costly in the long run. Difficult economic times often find people delaying or avoiding trips to the dentist, according to Deborah Locke, a licensed dental hygienist in New Jersey and New York with national board certification.
Downsized employees not only have lost medical benefits, but dental coverage, too, said Locke, who received her dental hygiene certificate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia.
“People may not be aware of many subtle dental changes, because they don’t feel them or recognize them. This can result in delayed or skipped dental visits,” said Locke, a Marlboro resident who has been an active dental hygienist for 30 years. “It takes a trained dental professional to see small changes that if left untreated may develop into major costly dental problems or even medical diseases.”
The key to good dental health, she said, is education and knowledge.
“One of my key roles as a dental hygienist is to explain to patients the etiology of dental diseases and what individuals can do to prevent dental problems. These dental ‘issues’ if left unchecked could affect a person’s ability to eat properly, compromising one’s ability to maintain proper nutrition, which in turn may negatively impact one’s general health.
“Bleeding of the gums and inflammation [puffiness] in the gums is not a normal dental state,” said Locke, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in health education from New York University. “It is estimated that more than 90 percent of the population is afflicted with some level of gum disease, which is a slow, relatively painless process that, if left untreated, can result in bone degradation and eventual tooth loss.”
She said the dental office is the starting point for dental education.
“Ask questions about your mouth, the proper way to floss and brush, and what dental aids or rinses really work,” said Locke, who also earned a Master of Business Administration degree in health care administration from the Bernard M. Baruch College and Mount Sinai School of Medicine joint program in New York. “Education empowers you to take ownership of your dental and general health.”
Proper flossing and brushing of teeth, she said, are preventive actions that can be done at home. “We recommend brushing teeth with a soft toothbrush a minimum of twice a day, preferably after meals,” said Locke. “Daily flossing is critical to remove bacterial plaque between the teeth that, if not removed, forms calculus, or tartar, which can destroy the fibers that hold the teeth in place.”
Locke pointed out the benefits of daily flossing and the use of certain devices such as oral irrigators or water flossers. One of her patients who is in her 90s describes herself as an avid flosser. When Locke checked the woman’s teeth, she was very impressed. “Therewas no evidence of gum disease, no active infections, no mobility of the teeth. ‘What’s your secret?’ I asked her. She said that she flossed every day, even as a youngster before dental floss was readily available. She didn’t like the feeling of anything stuck to her teeth, so she used thread from her mother’s sewing kit,” Locke explained.
Locke states that good nutrition is key to good dental and overall health.
“Learn how to balance your intake of acidic and alkaline foods. Ingesting highacidic foods and drinks as well as improper tooth-brushing technique are the two main reasons for tooth sensitivity. Certain drinks like red wine, soda, and even ‘seemingly healthy’ fruit juice, can erode enamel, which is the outer layer of the tooth,” she said. “Moderate intake of these items and drinking more water, the wonder drink, are recommended.”
Achild’s primary or deciduous teeth, also called baby teeth, are very important, Locke said. “The deciduous teeth help the child speak and chew and are as important as the permanent adult teeth,” she said. “Check with your dentist or pediatric dentist to determine when you should bring your toddler in for his/her first dental visit.”
It may be recommended to start dental checkups when the deciduous teeth appear but not later thanwhen all the primary teeth have appeared, usually between 2½ to 3 years old, she said.
Locke, who is passionate about dental education, said that preventive care cannot be overestimated.
“If we, the dental professionals, educate, instruct and motivate our patients to take good care of their mouths, and to reduce the burden of infections, then we will be helping them to control their overall health as well,” she said, adding that poor dental health and hygiene cuts across socioeconomic lines.
Internet websites, such as the American Dental Association and the American Dental Hygiene Association, offer information on various dental topics. “Discuss these topics with your dental professional,” she said. “It’s another way to empower yourself.”
If lack of dental insurance or sudden loss of income prevents proper professional dental care, Locke suggests speaking with your dentist. “Honestly explain your financial situation and try to negotiate a financial plan,” she said. “Also, speak with friends and relatives about where they receive their dental care.
“Optimal dental health is a great investment,” she added.
For those with financial concerns, she suggested looking into low-cost dental clinics that are associated with hospitals or medical schools.
The N.J. Division of Family Health Services puts together a directory of dental clinics, which can be viewed at www.nj.gov/health/fhs/newborn/ documents/dental_ directory.pdf.
These facilities include Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune (which has a long waiting list), and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, where dental residents, under the supervision of licensed dentists, provide dental care. Also, Middlesex Community College in Edison has a dental hygiene clinic where patients can obtain dental cleanings, preventive care and oral care instruction.
JFK Medical Center in Edison has a self-pay policy, which is less expensive than most dental offices, a representative said.
The state directory also lists the Parker Family Health Clinic in Red Bank as offering on-site children’s dental screenings for Monmouth County residentswho are patients at the clinic up to the age of 14.
Ocean Health Initiatives, Lakewood, also offers a variety of payment options for dental services.
Check the facility’s website or the state directory for more information about the clinics mentioned. It is always advisable to call first for an appointment.