Dental Fear & Gum Disease In The U.S.

Posted on May 25, 2016 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

In dentistry, caregivers are always encouraging you to be committed to your 6-month exams and cleanings. These periodic visits help to remove buildup that can lead to damage to teeth and gum tissues. Too, they are often able to catch small problems while treatment needs are still minimal.

It is very difficult, however, to coax a fearful patient into a dental office. Typically, many avoid regular care and only force themselves into a dental chair because they are in pain. By this time, many treatment needs are more involved, more costly and require greater treatment time. This tends to acerbate the problem, merely adding to their dread of dental visits.

It is estimated that up to 75% of American adults have some level of fear associated with dental visits. This is a huge number! So, as a Periodontist, it’s no surprise that nearly half of the adults in the U.S. have some level of periodontal (gum) disease.

Even a thorough oral hygiene routine at home misses bacteria on occasion. When oral bacteria are not quickly removed by thorough brushing and flossing, they amass together and form a cement-hard colony that attaches to tooth surfaces. This accumulation of bacteria reproduces rapidly as they eat away at tooth enamel and gum tissues.

This hardened mass of bacteria is known as calculus, or tartar. It can only be removed by special instruments used in a dental office by a dentist or dental hygienist. If not removed, it continues to thrive and expand.

As oral bacteria consume gum tissues, inflammation begins. This causes tender gums that bleed when brushing. As it progresses, you may notice persistent bad breath and gums that darken to red versus a healthy pink color. Gum tissues may recede, exposing sensitive areas of tooth roots.mcdc7_periodontitis

Eventually, the infectious bacteria will penetrate the gums and attack below the gum line. This is when the inflammation can damage the bone structures that support tooth roots. Pus pockets may also form on gums and teeth may loosen. As a matter of fact, periodontal disease is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss.

While people who avoid dental visits may try to be ultra-diligent in their home-care routine, it’s easy to be susceptible to oral bacteria. A number of factors heighten your vulnerability, including dry mouth and what you eat.

Dry mouth occurs due to a wide range of factors. Some medications have a drying affect on the mouth. Certain foods and beverages contribute to dry mouth, especially those containing caffeine and alcohol. Smoking is very drying to oral tissues. And, the aging process leaves us with drier mouths.

Eating sugary foods and many carbohydrates are just as detrimental to your oral health. Many Americans snack during the day, often on chips, crackers and candy bars – which are then washed down with sugary sodas. All this converts into a sugar based super-food in the mouth that provides oral bacteria with sustenance that super charges their reproduction.

So, even as a twice-daily brusher and daily flosser, you are not immune from developing gum disease. Avoiding regular dental check-ups is a sure recipe for needing treatment down the road that may have easily been prevented.

How does a fearful adult overcome their problem so they can have the dental care they need? I believe it begins with a conversation. This time together helps us to understand the background to your fears — when they began, how long you’ve had them, etc. I’ll explain the various comfort options that will help to relax you as well as ‘signals’ you can do to indicate you’d like a break.

When many fearful patients understand they are in control of their care, they are more willing to have the care they need. However, it is equally important that they develop a sense of trust with their caregivers. Feeling that the goal is to help them avoid uncomfortable sensations should be evident throughout each visit.

When more adults are able to release their fears and have the dental care they need, we will hopefully see a nation of healthier smiles and less tooth loss. Until then, encourage fearful individuals you know to consult with dentist after dentist until they find one they feel is sensitive to their unique needs.

In our office, consults are held in a private consultation room that’s removed from the clinical side of the practice. Here, we sit in a living room-like setting to discuss your specific needs and options that are recommended for your goals.

Call 828-274-9440 to schedule a time when we can meet.

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