It’s inevitable: You’re enjoying a meal, perhaps gnawing on a barbecued spare rib, and you chip a tooth. Or you wake up in the middle of the night in agony thanks to a cavity that’s made its presence known. If you’ve had fillings, root canals, crowns, bridges, caps, or extractions, you know that the costs are sky-high for these dental procedures. But if you’ve always had good, healthy teeth and gums, unexpected dental work could really put a dent in your budget.
Our teeth are important, not only so we can eat, but also because poor gum health can be indicative of many worse health issues – so it’s imperative that you keep them in good working order. If you don’t, you could be spending thousands of dollars at the dentist office.
So how do you go about keeping your teeth healthy and avoid unnecessary dental bills? Here are 6 important tips to get you started:
Taking Care of Your Teeth
1. Watch What You Eat
Sure, candy and gum are on the top of the “no-no” list when it comes to avoiding cavities, but other things can wreak havoc on your teeth, too.
- Red wine, cigarettes, and coffee can stain your pearly whites. Teeth whitening procedures can easily run you a cool $1,000, so it makes sense to either cut down or eliminate these items from your diet altogether.
- Cookies, ice cream, and cake should be eaten sparingly. Reducing your intake of these sugary treats will keep your teeth in tip-top condition (and help you to lose weight too).
- Carbonated soft drinks are a double whammy: The extra sugar causes cavities, while phosphoric and citric acids wear away tooth enamel.
- Cough drops and hard candies seem innocuous enough, but they contain damaging sugar. Avoid or reduce your use.
- Gum can harm the teeth of children and adults alike. If you absolutely must chew gum, buy the sugar-free stuff, but keep even that to a minimum. It’s sticky, so there’s a chance that pieces of it can lodge in your gums and teeth, accelerating decay.
- Starches, which eventually break down into sugar, build up on your teeth and turn into plaque, reducing the protective enamel on your teeth. This reduction can lead to periodontitis (i.e. gum disease that leads to the loss of bone around your teeth) or gingivitis (i.e. swollen gums). Some examples include bread, potato chips, and white rice.
- Alcohol is another substance that isn’t good for your dental health. Alcoholic drinks dry out your mouth, softening and eroding tooth enamel. Soft tooth enamel is ground zero for cavities.
- Fruit juices seem harmless enough, but whether sweetened or unsweetened, they still contain cavity-causing sugar. Children, especially, shouldn’t drink too much juice.
2. Watch What You Put in Your Mouth
The foods outlined above are the obvious culprits, but we’ve all been guilty of using our teeth to open a package or rip off a clothing tag. Don’t use your mouth when other tools (such as scissors or bottle-openers) can do the job. Chewing on pens and “hard” foods, such as pretzels, crusts, and ice, are notorious for wearing down your teeth. And take care when eating meats such as ribs, drumsticks, and pork chops so you don’t chip a tooth on a bone. Otherwise, you’re just begging for a costly trip to the dentist.
3. Brush and Floss Often
In addition to avoiding damaging foods and habits, you need to take care of your teeth and gums with these dentist-recommended maintenance tips:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day, for two minutes at a time. Even better, whip out the toothbrush after every meal to remove food particles that may be lurking in the crevices of your teeth. While electric toothbrushes are recommended by many dentists (e.g. Philips Sonicare FlexCare), manual toothbrushes will also do the trick. As long as you’re brushing, your teeth will benefit immensely.
- Floss, floss, floss. Dentists recommend at least once a day, but wielding that little minty string after every meal can save you a ton of money on dental bills. Flossing removes plaque and food residue from your teeth and gums, keeping them healthy. Plaque left in the mouth leads to gum disease and cavities, which results in expensive dental work.
- Choose toothpaste that contains fluoride, which helps teeth resist damage from acidic foods and strengthens tooth enamel. Fluoride isn’t included in all toothpaste, so read the label carefully before purchasing.
- Replace your toothbrush periodically. The American Dental Association recommends a new toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if you notice the bristles are starting to fray.
4. Get Professional Help
One dental bill you shouldn’t avoid? A thorough teeth cleaning and checkup. Many dental insurance plans will cover two cleanings per year. At each appointment, the dental hygienist will remove plaque buildup and stubborn residue from your teeth, and the dentist will carefully check your teeth and gums for signs of disease. If the dentist does find an issue that requires filling a cavity or performing an extraction or root canal, it’s wise to go ahead with those procedures. Sure, it will cost money now, but it will be worth it to save your teeth and avoid pain and suffering in the future.
5. Skip the Anesthesia
This tip is not for the faint of heart. If you have a great tolerance for pain, ask the dentist to forgo the Novocain while doing that root canal or other dental work. For difficult extractions, such as wisdom teeth, you may be able to reduce your dental bill by numbing the area or using nitrous oxide to relax you, rather than receiving full anesthesia, which can cost thousands of dollars.
6. Sign Up for Dental Insurance
Dental insurance premiums through your employer can cost as little as $100 annually. For instance, our dental plan covers two cleanings and checkups a year, and anywhere from 50% to 100% of costs associated with dental procedures such as root canals, extractions, crowns, and bridges. Our insurance even covers dental surgeries at 50%, which is good news for folks like my husband, who needs to have all of his wisdom teeth removed. Some of these procedures can cost upward of thousands of dollars, so the small premium is worth the expense in the event that something major comes up.
Dental work like cavity fillings, root canals, and extractions can be very costly. To save money, take preventative measures like watching what you eat, brushing and flossing regularly, and keeping up to date with your check-ups. If you do have to have major dental work, skipping anesthesia and having dental insurance are two ways to keep money in your wallet – and a smile on your face.
What are you doing to take care of your teeth and reduce the cost of dental expenses?