Your dentist wants you to have a healthy smile and great visits! They also really want you to keep coming back so you can stay healthy. Unfortunately, sometimes the desire to keep you coming back so they can help you leads them to bite their tongue and not tell you everything all at once. Out of fear of alienating a sensitive patient or overwhelming a frazzled patient, dentists sometimes dole out advice cautiously and in small doses instead of all at once. Better, they figure, to see small incremental improvements in a patient who will come back for more visits (and future small improvements) than to say something overwhelming that prevents a patient from continuing to take the best care they can of their teeth, doing real harm.
So, if you’ve ever wondered what your dentist isn’t telling you during your once or twice yearly visits that is on the tip of their tongue to share given the slightest opening, read on.
“I know you’re not flossing.”
Sure, they heard you tell them you were flossing. And they believed you. Until they actually looked in your mouth. Flossing one time right before you visit the dentist is not going to fool anyone who works with teeth on a daily basis. The stained spots between your teeth from where microscopic particles of food get trapped, allowing bacteria to feast and develop into plaques, weakening your enamel are a dead giveaway. Also, you can’t fake out how tight the spaces between your teeth are. If you were flossing daily, the floss would fit easily between your teeth, not get hung up.
If you’re not flossing, don’t try to fool your dentist that you are. Come clean that it’s a pain point in your oral care routine. They can recommend tools like flossers on handles (yes, there are multiple types for individual comfort), water cleaners, and tiny brushes for between teeth to help you find a solution for cleaning between your teeth that actually works for you. And, if you have demineralized spots from your previously bad habits, try a remineralizing rinse to strengthen your enamel.
“That stress is killing you, or at least it’s doing a number on your teeth.”
A quick peek in your mouth may quickly reveal to your dentist that you’ve been stressed since your last visit. Clenching your teeth or grinding your teeth are both behaviors associated with stress and behaviors that will shorten the healthy life of your teeth. Clenching and grinding can cause wear of the tooth surfaces and can be severe enough to cause tiny cracks in your enamel, endangering your tooth’s integrity. Your dentist will likely notice chronic bruxism (tooth grinding) during an exam.
If your dentist tries to broach stress during an exam, don’t be alarmed. Stress management can help reduce the wear on your teeth. It also may help relieve jaw pain and ear pain related to clenching and grinding. Your dentist may also be able to recommend other simple strategies, like fitting you with a custom night guard, that can help keep your teeth healthy and safe.
“Twice a year dental visits are great, but…”
…they may not be for you. Twice a year is a general recommendation, but studies have indicated that it’s not right for everyone. The American Dental Association states that the right frequency for dental visits should be determined by the dentist by examining individual risk factors. In fact, some people should visit the dentist more frequently, as often as every 3 months while patients with extremely low-risk factors and no dental problems may do fine with a once a year visit. The important thing is to have a conversation with your dentist about what you actually need to optimize your health. Your dentist may be avoiding this conversation because patients often let their insurance coverage dictate how often and how much treatment they receive whether their coverage levels are right for their particular situation or not. Still, treating a problem early generally saves money and/or pain in the long term.
“What you don’t tell me can hurt you.”
Your dentist is not asking what medications you take because they are curious and want to have lots of irrelevant paperwork. That blood pressure medication you just started taking may be a well-known cause of dry mouth. Your newly diagnosed diabetes can significantly change your risk for developing serious gum disease. If your dentist knows your dry mouth risk is elevated, they can advise you about symptoms to watch for recommending products to try to keep the dry mouth from turning into a mouth full of cavities. They can treat your early signs of gum disease more aggressively knowing that your risk for dangerous infection is elevated. It’s important to share general health information with your dentist so they can help you make properly informed treatment decisions.