Dental News

Taking care of dental problems early can save money in long run

Periodic exams can stop problem before it gets worse
Marcine Hays
March 19, 2008

Many people think that their dental health is just fine — until they feel pain. About half of the population doesn’t see the dentist until there’s a problem. It may be a broken filling or a chipped tooth. Perhaps it’s a tooth that’s been sensitive for a while, and now it hurts all the time. This new condition prompts an anxious call to the dentist.

It may have been years since you’ve seen your dentist, or you may not have an established dental relationship. Whatever the case, you are motivated to take care of the problem now. You set an appointment and then go in for an exam. You may find out that you have more dental work to do than you realized. That’s the first surprise.

During the time that has passed since you last saw a dentist, things have been happening in your mouth. It may not have been noticeable, but your dental health has gradually declined. Because tooth decay and gum disease frequently don’t hurt in their early stages, people assume their condition hasn’t changed since their last exam. Now steps need to be taken to prevent tooth loss.

The dental staff has the task of delivering the “bad news” and educating the patient about how to improve his dental health. Sometimes the patient is in denial about his true condition. Sometimes he’s suffering from sticker shock.

Luckily, modern dentistry has multiple “fixes” for just about any problem. Those fixes include all kinds of technical wonders, effective anesthetics and financing plans. The sooner you see the dentist, the more satisfying and less expensive the “fix” will be.

Periodic dental exams and cleanings are sort of like changing the oil on your car. You wouldn’t expect your car to run for years without preventative maintenance. Your mouth needs the same ongoing attention.

If it’s been more than a year since you’ve seen the dentist, it’s time to work an office visit into your plans. It’s an investment now, but you save money in the long run because you can catch problems when they’re smaller and easier to fix.

How much will this repair cost? Filling a small cavity or a routine exam can cost around $150. Waiting until you need a large filling can cost twice that. Waiting until decay has progressed to the root of a tooth can cost as much as 15 times that small filling.

Why so much? At that point you may need a root canal, a filling (called a build up) to create a solid foundation, and a crown to protect what’s left of the tooth. Think of it as three microsurgery procedures.

If you’ve waited until the tooth can’t be saved, you will need a bridge or an implant to preserve your bite. Then you may invest more than $3,000 to fill in the gap.

Someone once said, “There are no spontaneous remissions in dental care,” so don’t expect a tooth to heal by itself. Early intervention is well worth the investment.