The cost of delaying dental care: What dental professionals can do to help turn a bad trend around

Nathan Laughrey, DMD, the owner of three Apsen Dental practices in Pennsylvania, shares his thoughts on what dentists and their teams can do to help make it easier for patients to accept the dental treatment they need now, instead of postponing it until the problems become larger and more far-reaching.

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A recent survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted by ORC International and commissioned by Aspen Dental reports that more than one in three American adults (36%) has delayed or will delay dental care due to the uncertain U.S. economy and their lingering fears about their current financial situation. In addition, consumers are making that decision despite understanding the long-term implications: more than 80% indicated that they knew that delaying dental care would cost them more in the long run. View the complete survey: “Impact of Economic Conditions on Dental Care.”

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I recently had the opportunity to speak with Nathan Laughrey, DMD, the owner of three Apsen Dental practices in Pennsylvania, to get his thoughts on what dentists and their teams can do to help make it easier for patients to accept the dental treatment they need now, instead of postponing it until the problems become larger and more far-reaching.

How can dental professionals explain to their patients that delaying needed dental treatment now will actually end up costing them more in the long run?

Dr. Laughrey: As dental professionals, we need to help patients understand the value of routine dental care and how routine dental care can help avoid bigger, more expensive dental issues in the future. I explain to patients that whatever your dental needs are today, they are less than what your dental needs will likely be in the future, if untreated. Unlike other health issues, an unhealthy mouth may not “hurt”; once a patient is in pain, it is likely that dental disease is at an advanced stage. Also, unlike other health issues, tooth decay and gum disease will not heal with “rest,” like a sore muscle or sprained foot. Decay and gum disease must be treated to stop further deterioration.

What can dentists and their teams do to make it easier for patients to accept treatment now rather than waiting?

Dr. Laughrey: There are many things dentists can do to break down the barriers that keep patients from getting the care they need. Here at Aspen Dental, we believe the following factors make it easier for patients to get the care they need:

  • Extended hours: A lot of patients can’t take time off to get to the dentist’s office, so we offer evening and Saturday hours to accommodate them.
  • Insurance: All dental insurance plans are welcome at Aspen. For patients without insurance, we offer a free or reduced-fee new patient appointments, which includes X-rays.
  • Appointing quickly: The patients we see often wait to call until they’re in pain or have an emergency, so the goal is to get them in as quickly as possible. We schedule with urgency — 41% of new patients were scheduled for an appointment within 48 hours of their call in 2012, as were 31% of all patients (new and existing). Walk-ins and emergency patients are always welcome.
  • Affordability: Aspen Dental practices offer fees that are below market average, along with flexible payment plans and financing options.
  • Onsite labs: As an added convenience, my practice has its own on-site denture laboratory, which helps facilitate quick turnaround for denture repairs, relines, or adjustments, as well as crown and bridge work.

What are some specific positives patients can gain from getting dental treatment taken care of in a timely fashion?

Dr. Laughrey: It’s often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By getting treatment sooner rather than later, patients will avoid bigger dental problems, more expensive problems, and perhaps more painful problems.

How does periodontal disease directly affect cardiovascular disease and diabetes, for example?

Dr. Laughrey: While the research isn’t conclusive, many studies have shown an association between periodontal disease and both cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In general, your oral health is an important part of your overall health “system.”

RELATED |The link between periodontitis and cardiovascular disease: A brief overview

If patients take care of their oral health, are their chances of overall physical health increased?

Dr. Laughrey: Yes, all other things being equal. In general, oral health is an important part of your overall health “system.”

Do you have any statistics you can cite about how much an average patient might spend for standard maintenance of oral health now compared to waiting and getting dental work done, say, two or three years down the road?

Dr. Laughrey: Generally speaking, preventive care is less expensive than more advanced care such as periodontal treatment, crowns, root canal, extractions, etc. According to a report by Oral Health America, early dental treatment is cost-effective. In fact, the cost of providing preventive dental treatment is estimated to be 10 times less than the cost of managing symptoms of dental disease in a hospital emergency room. Moreover, the report notes that improving oral health by multiple preventive approaches, including periodontal (gum) disease management, saves more than $4 billion per year in treatment costs.

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