Most of us think of insurance as a means to protect us and our families from unforeseen loss. While that’s the general definition, some insurance plans — like dental — don’t quite work that way.
The typical dental plan actually works more like a discount coupon for dental services. Most are part of an employer-based benefit package and usually “fee-for-service”: the insurance company pays for part or sometimes the entire bill after your dental visit based on a fee schedule laid out in the policy.
A plan’s benefits depend on what the insurer offers to cover and what level of coverage your employer (or you) are willing to pay for. Typically, the more items covered under the policy, the higher the premium. Any deductibles (the amount you must pay out of pocket before receiving any plan benefits) can also affect the premium — the lower the deductible, the higher the premium.
The benefits may also be limited due to what a patient’s dentist charges for services. Most insurers pay benefits based on what they determine to be the “usual, customary and reasonable” (UCR) fee for a particular service. The dentist’s fees are most often higher, however, resulting in the patient paying a higher percentage of the bill.
Still, a dental plan can work to your financial advantage, especially if it’s employer-based with premiums paid by your employer. It may not be advantageous, however, if you’re paying the premiums. For example, a person without insurance might spend on average $200 a year for basic dental care (mostly preventative — checkups and cleanings), while a person with insurance may have those expenses covered, but are paying yearly premiums of $500 or more for the plan.
You should also consider one other factor: our first priority as dentists is to pursue the best course of treatment for your particular dental needs, which may not always align with what your policy covers. At the same time, we understand the limitations you may be under with your plan — we work in this world every day. We’ll certainly assist you in navigating the insurance waters to achieve the best care for what you can afford.
If you would like more information on dental insurance and other financial arrangements, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Insurance 101.”
Although we’ve made great strides over the last century making dental visits more pleasant and comfortable, many people still feel a little apprehension about them at one time or another. For a few, though, this apprehension escalates into high anxiety — so high they may even avoid important dental treatment altogether.
If you have a significant phobia regarding dental visits and treatment, here are some things you can do to reduce your anxiety and feel more comfortable when you undergo treatment.
Let us know about your feelings of anxiety. We’re conditioned by society to regard such fears as irrational or “silly,” and so we tend to hide our negative emotions. Dentists, however, have been trained to work with fearful patients to reduce their anxiety levels. Being honest with us about your fears and nervousness is the first step to developing an anxiety-reducing strategy that will make your visits more pleasant.
Counteract bad experiences with good. For most people the fear they have during dental visits stems from earlier unpleasant experiences at the dentist. The fear can be so ingrained that simply trying to convince yourself or to be told “there’s nothing to be afraid of” will have little to no effect. Instead, build a memory collection of positive and pleasant dental visit experiences that serve to counteract the unpleasant. To do this we might first get you acclimated to routine visits and then gradually transition to more invasive procedures. This may increase the normal time for dental treatment, but the reduction in anxiety is worth the extra time.
Consider sedation therapy. In addition to modifying your experiences, you may also benefit from sedation medications that reduce anxiety, especially in the early stages of treatment. Depending on your medical history and current status, we can prescribe a sedative for you to take an hour or so before your appointment to help you relax. We can also increase the level of anesthesia (from local to intravenous or gas anesthesia, for example) if your anxiety is especially acute.
Taking proactive steps to minimize dental visit anxiety will increase the probability that you’ll obtain needed dental care. Your teeth and gums will be healthier for it.
If you would like more information on coping with dental visit anxiety, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Overcoming Dental Fear & Anxiety.”
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
While you do all you can to provide your child healthy meals and snacks at home, they still face tempting choices for unhealthy fare when they’re away. Unfortunately, their school campus could be one of those places with food choices that raise their risk for dental disease.
Thankfully, that situation is beginning to change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued regulations a few years ago tightening minimum health standards for snacks available on school grounds. Called the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative, it promotes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, while discouraging snacks with empty calories, fat, sugar and excessive salt. This is good news in particular for preventing tooth decay in children and teenagers.
Unfortunately, the initiative may not go far enough. There are a few “loopholes”: it allows for chocolate milk with added sugar as long as it’s fat-free; high schools can also sell beverages like sports and energy drinks, which are low in sugar but high in enamel-harming acid. So, although the general nutrition of snacks in schools may be improving, you should still remain alert to poor choices that may fall through the cracks.
For one thing, you can advocate for better nutrition policies in your child’s school. The USDA initiative is a minimum standard — schools can exceed them and eliminate borderline snacks allowed under the federal regulations.
You can also provide your child snack alternatives to the school vending machine. A little creativity and fun can go a long way: a dash of cinnamon or parmesan cheese on popcorn instead of butter; finger sandwiches made of real cheese on whole-grain bread (with some whimsical shaping with a cookie-cutter); or bite-sized fruits and vegetables like grapes, baby carrots or nuts. The more healthy (and enjoyable) snacks you can send with them, the less chance they’ll turn to a less nutritious choice in the vending machine.
A healthier approach to snacking depends on setting good examples, providing ample selections and accentuating the positive about healthy foods. Choosing nutritious foods, at home and away, is a key building block for healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on nutrition and dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Snacking at School.”
Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
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