This is how the story goes . . .
I don't need to see a dentist. Nothing is wrong with my teeth. They don't hurt. And my gums don't bleed.
Anyway, I don't have time/money right now and I can think of 50 things I would rather do than see a dentist for a check up . . .
. . . until a sudden and urgent problem arises.
An unexpected broken tooth that lacerates the tongue. Sensitivity so intense that even tap water makes the whole body jump. A sudden severe ache that creates a sleepless night, and makes us take too much paracetamol. A swollen, painful gum. A bit of stuck food that cannot be unstuck.
These are the emergencies that wake us up to the fact that our teeth are crucial to our overall wellbeing, and that dentists are pretty good guys after all 😁.
The good news is that in Australia, between 47% and 60.7% of the total population had visited a dentist in the past 12 months. In 2010, 55.5% had received a dental check-up in the past 12 months. And in 2013, 44% of Australians with teeth were reported to have a 'favourable' dental visiting pattern. This means "Visiting a dentist once or more a year (usually for a check-up) and having a usual dental provider." (Data sourced from AIHW and Australia’s Oral Health Tracker - Technical Paper).
These are pretty healthy stats, and the numbers for children are better - due to the Children's Dental Health Benefits Schedule eliminating financial barriers to regular dental care. The numbers reflect that quite a lot of people take their oral health seriously enough to have their own dentist who they see regularly.
However, there is an alarming flip side to this story.
Somewhere between 40% and slightly more than half of our population don't have a regular dentist and regular dental care. They are relying on a 'sudden and urgent problem' to prompt them to make a dental appointment.
In 2015-16 there were 67,266 potentially preventable hospitalisations due to dental conditions. Children in the 5-9 age range were the most common group requiring hospital admission. (Australia’s Oral Health Tracker - Technical Paper.)
Tooth decay is one of the most preventable chronic diseases, yet around 25% of Australian adults and 27% of Australian children have untreated tooth decay. (Australia’s Oral Health Tracker - Technical Paper.)
Signs of gum disease are present in 38% of people aged 55 and older.
Relying on symptoms to indicate that something is wrong does not work.
By the time teeth hurt or break, or gums bleed or swell, the problem will be severe, and possibly severe enough to lead to very expensive treatment and/or loss of the tooth.
This is the perfect set up for the vicious cycle of dental avoidance.
In a nutshell, the check-up is the most important visit with your dentist.
The regular dental check up allows decay to be treated when it is small and simple. It can prevent gum disease from developing, or keep it under control. It gives the dentist an opportunity to ensure tune-up your self-care practices.
Prevention is the key to complete and ongoing good health, and prevention is the focus and the purpose of the regular dental check-up.
Regular dental care saves money in the long term and actually reduces the amount of time that needs to be spent at the dentist over a lifetime.
It is also a wise investment in our complete wellbeing. More on this in my latest blog . . .
Rogers JG. Evidence-based oral health promotion resource. Prevention and Population Health Branch, Government of Victoria, Department of Health, Melbourne, 2011.
Oral health and dental care in Australia, Introduction - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Retrieved 12 September 2019, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dental-oral-health/oral-health-and-dental-care-in-australia/contents/introduction
Oral health and dental care in Australia, Dental care - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Retrieved 12 September 2019, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dental-oral-health/oral-health-and-dental-care-in-australia/contents/dental-care
Australia’s Oral Health Tracker - Technical Paper. (2019). Retrieved 12 September 2019, from https://www.ada.org.au/Dental-Professionals/Australia-s-Oral-Health-Tracker/Australia-s-Oral-Health-Tracker-Technical-Appendix/ADA_AHPC_Technical-Appendix_07032018.aspx