If you were a child in the ’60s or even ’70s, dental care was a simple process: brush twice a day, eat an apple if you don’t have a toothbrush. It wasn’t until the ’80s and the dawn of Whole Foods that most of us started hearing about flossing.
Unfortunately, during these decades mighty forces were conspiring against every well-intentioned tooth brusher: the sugar and corn lobbies. It’s currently estimated that Americans consume 156 pounds of sugar each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Mull that over a moment.
The problem isn’t even in the cookies, cakes and quirky candies that draw our attention in the supermarket aisles and on TV ads; no, the problem is in the hidden sugar, the sugar in your orange juice, your cereal, your spaghetti sauce. Ridding American products of sugar is like stripping the country of guns. The product is so ingrained in our everyday lives that even as this examiner writes this treatise, she is nibbling on a breakfast of a PB&J sandwich on whole wheat bread.
What’s the solution
While other articles focus on the health ills suffered by the sugar addicted (me, you), this one focuses specifically on the dental health you’ll lose because of your daily fixes.
In America, the cost of dentistry remains exorbitant. Even a “good” insurance plan is likely to only cover a thousand dollars worth of dentistry a year. Then there are the waiting periods. Need a root canal today? Unlikely you can get that covered now. And forget about only paying a grand. A decent endodontist (root canal specialist) would charge at least $1100, possibly up to $2400 in Manhattan or Beverly Hills.
This is not an indictment of the wonderful dentists and root canal specialists and oral surgeons who are there to help us. That is a discussion for politicians to work out as they figure out why taking care of our health and dental health should have a price tag attached to it.
Rather, it’s a primer on how to stay orally healthy as you age. Here you go:
1) Forgo sugar in your coffee
2) Read all labels on processed foods
3) Limit processed foods
4) Eat natural rather than refined sugars. Spring is a wonderful time to start this habit. This examiner has fond memories of sitting down to a big chunk of watermelon with her grandmother in South Texas.
5) Brush twice a day and floss at least once, twice if you can. Rinse your mouth out with water after eating anything.
6) Don’t “treat” your kids with ice cream. Treat them with a day at the park. Early habits that include enjoying pineapple slices and cantaloupe and maybe some fizzy water will serve them well as they age. By 50, those “kids” will be thanking Mom and Dad as they see each of their friends succumb to dental woes.
7) Choose your dental products carefully. This examiner is not a dentist. You can do your own research, but remember there are artificial sweeteners in most toothpastes so we don’t make a face when we have to use it. Tom’s is a great natural product, and Crest is recommended by many dentists. However, look at the products in your dental care aisle at Whole Foods or other natural market or even Stop ‘n Shop and look for the fewest additives. There is actually detergent, sodium lauryl sulfate, in most toothpastes, which is what gives the frothy effect. Be aware.
8) If you do need dental work, always weigh the pros and cons of major procedures. Back molars that need root canals could be pulled more cheaply, and if you have all your other teeth this could be a smart way to go. Sometimes root canals fail. That said, most of us value our teeth and once a molar or other tooth is gone, it’s gone. If you can afford a root canal, find the best specialist in your area (a good resource is Health Grades).
9) Seek referrals when you choose your dentists. I’ll start by helping out. You may have to take an hour’s drive but it’s worth it to see either Frank Ross, DDS in Stratford or Michael Norman, DDS in West Haven. For root canals, see Dr. Brian Amoroso in Fairfield. Oral surgery needs? You’ll be very happy with “Dr. Babak” (a.k.a. Dr. Babak Hakimzadeh) in West Haven. If you are right in Hartford, call 1-800-Dentist but be aware that they can’t give you recommendations. Go to Healthgrades if you can’t get a friend’s referral.
10) Finally, trust your gut. Having enjoyed perfect visits with endodontist Dr. Hiri Etessami in Beverly Hills before moving east in 2001, it was clear what the standard was. Go to not only the best dentist, root canal specialist or oral surgeon you can find but the one who “gets” you, the one who is kind, the one who won’t balk if your emotions run away with you (occasionally).
Dentistry is frighteningly expensive, and for a basic health need this is unconscionable in a country with so many riches. Luckily, dental clinics, dental schools and the odd pop-up free dentistry day are doing what they can to pick up the slack.
Dr. Neil S. Calman, President and CEO of The Institute for Family Health in New York City, shared the following:
Dental care is one of the most widely needed and most important aspects of health care, affecting almost every aspect of a person’s health and well-being. Poor oral health has been related to heart disease, life-threatening infections, difficulties with eating, and speech, nutritional deficiencies and depression. It is also related to the ability of people to get employed and to a person’s self-esteem.
Please leave comments about your experiences with local dentists. Should you have questions about what to expect from root canals, periodontistry, oral surgery, fillings and more, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Read more about recommended toothpaste and efficacy provided by the American Dental Association.