Why to Rethink Dental Checkups

Four out of five dentists recommend twice-a-year teeth cleaning. Here’s why the fifth dentist is right.

Four out of five dentists recommend twice-a-year teeth cleaning. Here’s why the fifth dentist is right. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Are you healthy?
  • Do you brush your teeth every day?
  • Is your mouth free of problems such as bleeding gums or sensitivity to cold or hot foods and drinks?
  • Do you dislike wasting your money and your time?
If you answered "yes" to all four questions, your answer to "do I need a dental hygiene visit twice a year?" should be a firm NO. Let's face it, we all want to do what we can to have good oral health and a great smile, but it's possible we are overdoing it. Getting your teeth cleaned by an oral hygienist twice a year is not a substitute for the important daily flossing and brushing that you should be doing anyway to maintain healthy teeth and gums. According to research, there are no strong reasons for visiting your dentist twice a year if you are healthy and have no oral symptoms. You might say: "But my dentist insists on twice yearly visits, and he/she is paid by my dental plan!" To which we would say, the reason you might think you have to visit a dentist twice a year is based on marketing, not science. We can go back as far as a successful pre-World War II marketing campaign for Pepsodent toothpaste that encouraged people to brush twice daily and to see their dentists twice yearly. This "twice-a-year" standard obviously benefited both the toothpaste manufacturer and the dental professions. As dental insurance emerged in the marketplace, these plans made coverage of the twice-yearly visit a standard covered service, often at no charge to the policyholder. Voila, a standard of care—one based on no supporting data at all—was born. So you might ask, how often should I see the dentist? It is true that, on average, Americans should be visiting the dentist about twice a year—some more, some less. Here are reasons why you might get dental checkups more than twice a year. For instance, maybe you have risk factors for gum disease or already have gum disease. We also know, for example, that mouth-breathers, smokers, tobacco-chewers and people on medications that cause dry mouth (such as opioids or even diphenhydramine, the main ingredient in Benadryl), have a higher chance of developing cavities. If you have excessive tartar on your teeth, or have had extensive dental work or braces, more frequent dental visits might be wise. See also: Insurtech: Mo’ Premiums, Mo’ Losses If you otherwise have a healthy mouth, a once-a-year visit should suffice. Between visits, the main person responsible for your oral health is you. Poor oral health may be linked to other health problems such as heart disease and pancreatic cancer, and, while those links aren’t fully established, attending more closely to your oral health may prove helpful. Bottom line: Pay attention to the daily tasks of brushing and flossing. If you are healthy and practice good dental hygiene, more than once-yearly dental visits could lead to additional unnecessary costs to you. Four out of five dentists recommend you visit them exactly twice a year. Maybe the fifth dentist knows what he’s talking about. Note: This blog post could inform your dental benefit design. Instead of covering two dental checkups for everyone, for about the same cost, you could match the coverage to the need. Pay the first checkup at 100%, the second at 80% and the third (and possibly fourth) at 60%. It’s the employees who need three or four who are going to have the most dental (and possibly medical) issues down the road.

Al Lewis

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Al Lewis

Al Lewis, widely credited with having invented disease management, is co-founder and CEO of Quizzify, the leading employee health literacy vendor. He was founding president of the Care Continuum Alliance and is president of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium.


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