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Saving your smile

It takes 10 minutes a day to brush and floss. Doing so can save you thousands of dollars, a lot of pain and, oh yeah, your teeth.

By Donna_Freedman May 21, 2010 12:27PM
I haven't had dental insurance for three years. Fortunately, my sister is a dental hygienist with an understanding boss. Thus I get twice-yearly cleanings and annual X-rays, and even the new toothbrush and the travel-sized Sensodyne.

What about all the insurance-less folks who don't have a friend in the business? My sister has two words for them:

Dental floss.

"Oral care becomes 10 times as important" if you don't have dental insurance, my sister says.

Brushing takes two minutes at a time, three times a day. Flossing takes about five minutes.

Every day Linda sees the results of poor oral hygiene: sore and bleeding gums, bad breath, eventual tooth loss.

It isn't just cosmetic, either. Gum disease has been linked to heart disease and stroke.

Floss more, pay less

Let's put it in strictly financial terms: The practice where my sister works charges $105 for a regular cleaning. Root planing and curettage, a treatment for people with gum disease, costs $165 per quadrant, or $660. Yowza.
If you don't have insurance and can't afford to pay cash, self-care is better than no care at all. Brush twice a day and floss once a day -- and make sure you're doing it correctly. This American Dental Association link, "Cleaning your teeth and gums," offers the particulars. (For example, did you know you should be brushing for two full minutes?)

A few more tips:
  • Dental schools offer inexpensive treatment in their clinics. Click here to find the closest one.
  • Dental hygiene schools might also provide low-cost cleanings. Follow this link to look for programs in your region.
  • Toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss are often available cheaply or even free after rebate.
  • You can brush your teeth with baking soda (frequently two boxes for $1 at discount drug and department stores), or even with just plain water. Floss can often be found at the dollar store.
Ice packs and agony
Although my cleaning went well, my sister had unpleasant news for me: An old crown needs replacing, to the tune of about $1,200. Luckily I have an emergency fund.

Even as I wince at the cost, I realize how fortunate I am. Some time ago I read a newspaper story about an unemployed man trying to get help with a serious, longstanding dental condition. The only thing he could do for the pain was to numb his jaw with ice packs.
He'd finally found a clinic that was willing to work with him. But when he got there his blood pressure was high and he could not be given the anesthetic. The service provider told him to come back the next day.

He broke down and wept.

The photo of an adult sobbing in pain and despair stayed with me. So did the idea of him being too broke to afford even generic ibuprofen.

Please, people, brush your teeth. Get yourself some floss. A little over an hour a week could save you a lot of pain, a ton of money and maybe even your life.

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