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Doctor's Orders: Why Every One Needs To Visit The Dentist Every Six Months

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I am among the group of people who would prefer to have no business within the four walls of a hospital or any medical related institution. Being in such a place makes me feel like a '98 Chevy with no engine just sitting there in the junkyard.

Throughout my life, I have visited a dentist's office three; first to make an appointment and secondly to have a tooth pulled.

Prior to those visits, I used to think that brushing your teeth twice a day and rinsing your mouth with warm water after every meal was all you needed to maintain a good dental hygiene.

On my first visit to the dentist, I had to join a queue that seemed unusually long to me. This got me to start questioning some of the ideas I had about the world of dental health.

Questions began to form in my mind:

Do people really need to visit the dentist on a regular basis?
Why do they feel the need to do that?
How often does one need to visit the dentist?

As I asked around, I found that people very much answered in the affirmative for the first two questions, but there was less agreement on the last one. I received varied answers but one stood out; majority said subscribed to the twice yearly dental checkup (that is once in six months).

This led me to take my investigation a bit further and so I fixed an appointment with the Dr. Jim Craig of Summerbrook Dental Group, the dentist who pulled my tooth and held an interview with him. Below is an excerpt of the interview. I will skip all the pleasantries and give you the nitty gritty.

ME: I have heard different perspectives about how often we should visit the dentist. But one viewpoint that stood out was the argument for the biannual checkup. What do you think? Is that like the officially prescribed time between visits for dental checkup or is it just a layman's perception? If it is not the standard, then how often do we need to visit the dentist?

DR. CRAIG: The matter of how often to visit the dentist has been a matter of debate for a really long time -- I'm talking as far back as the eighteenth century -- and I doubt if we are ever going to reach a consensus on this.

ME: So are you saying that the regularity of checkups is not important?

DR. CRAIG: Not necessarily. How often one should come into the dentist's office is dependent on some factors. For instance if you are experiencing a lot of tooth problems, you will need to come for checkups more often than someone who does not have the same problem. Another thing to consider is the age bracket of the patient. Permanent teeth are most vulnerable to decay at their early stage. So parents should bring their kids in for regular checkups whenever they start to grow their first permanent teeth. Our teeth become less vulnerable and stay so as we move into adolescence, up until our twenties when wisdom teeth come through. So you can see that the risk varies at different stages of our lives. But then again some children can live out their childhood with very few or no visits to the dentist. There are other factors involved here; like those children could belong to a higher socio-economic group, or eat more healthily and so on. So there really is no black and white answer to this question.

But a lot of people hold the biannual checkup view strongly. You'd think that if it isn't that important they'd know it.

DR. CRAIG: Now hold on just a minute. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. It's true that there is no standard checkup schedule prescribed by any international health or dental association. However, if someone wants to come in once every six months to check their teeth and do an overall teeth cleaning, what's wrong with that? Some people are so busy that they can only make out time twice a year to come in so they decide to keep both visits six months apart. Who knows, they may be planning so that it coincides with a leave or vacation or a national holiday or something. Twice a year is not the standard but that is not to say that it is bad timing. I guess what I'm saying is that you should come in as often as you feel is necessary unless told otherwise by your dentist.

ME: Okay. So it's neither the exception nor the rule?

DR. CRAIG: Exactly. Come in as often as you feel is necessary if you can afford it or if instructed by a dentist.

ME: So everyone needs to come in once in a while?

DR. CRAIG: Yes. Yes. Some come for treatment and others as a preventive measure but everyone should visit the dentist.

ME:I recently discovered that people, like me, who don't like hospitals or anything close to it exist in much larger numbers than I presumed. Naturally our distaste for medical institutions usually means that we end up suffering the most because we do not go for regular checkups and so deprive ourselves of treatment and professional medical advice. How do we overcome this fear or distaste?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I can't really help you there, I'm not a psychologist or behavioral analyst or anything like that. I cannot change their minds but I can show them the dangers of ignoring your dental health. Oral cancer is one of the deadliest oral diseases you can suffer. According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, someone dies from oral cancer every hour of every day in the U.S. alone. Then there is gum disease, which is an infection of the gum tissues and bone that hold your teeth firmly in place. It is consequently the biggest cause of tooth loss in adults. Both diseases mentioned above can be treated if detected early but that won't happen if you do not go for regular dental checkups, would it? Even seemingly silly stuff like bad breath can ruin things for you and it is often an indication of an underlying dental problem. As far as I know, it has destroyed more relationships than issues of behavioral compatibility.

ME: You said these diseases can be treated if detected on time. I know that'll certainly make me come in for checkups. For those of us whose dread of the dentist stems from ignorance of what happens during checkup, can you give a brief rundown of what takes place whenever someone comes in to be checked?

DR. CRAIG: Well, we do a number of things. During your appointment, your dentist will evaluate the health of your gums, perform a head and neck examination to see if anything is out of the ordinary. He will also examine your mouth to check for signs of oral cancer, vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, tartar and plaque. In some cases they might also examine your face, bite and saliva. He or she will then clean your teeth and remind you of the importance of good oral hygiene at home between visits. Practicing good oral hygiene at home should not be under emphasized. It is not all you need but it will definitely make your life a whole lot better.

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