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Your dentist’s important role in your overall health

Feb. 22, 2022
You might be used to turning to your PCP for health issues, but your dentist is trained to recognize the symptoms of many conditions. Visiting your dentist regularly isn’t something to neglect—your health could depend on it.

When people think about their health, they are understandably concerned about detecting and treating progressive diseases, like cancer or heart disease. Under that mindset, seeing your primary physician might seem more critical than seeing your dentist. However, your dentist can very well be one of the first lines of defense you have in protecting your health. With the capability to screen and recognize a full range of potential health problems, your dentist carries the same degree of priority as a primary care physician.

Your dentist’s role in your overall health strategy

Through scientific studies, medical and dental professionals have learned that oral health is linked to a person’s overall wellness. For instance, an untreated oral infection can allow bacteria to move into the bloodstream—leading to sepsis. In the same way, thrush (also known as Candida) is an oral fungal infection that’s more likely to develop when the body is stressed or hormonally in flux due to issues like diabetes, cancer, or even pregnancy.

While dentists can’t formally diagnose in the way that a doctor can, they’re trained to recognize the symptoms of many conditions. If they identify something concerning during your dental exam, they can refer you to other medical professionals. From there, these professionals will likely provide a full exam or necessary tests to obtain a definitive diagnosis.

Your dentist often detects unusual areas of the oral cavity before you even notice symptoms. This is critical—detecting and treating diseases early can often help prevent serious symptoms. Dentists will often provide oral cancer screenings during each visit as part of their comprehensive care plan.

Oral issues can affect your life in other ways, too. If you have bad breath, it can negatively impact your social interactions with others. If you have severe dental pain, you may miss work, as more than one-third of older adults reported doing in a University of Michigan poll. Those unfavorable interactions and missed shifts can cause unnecessary strains in your social life, create rifts in your work life, and create financial difficulties—which can all lead to a decrease in your overall health. So, visiting your dentist regularly isn’t something to neglect. It can be one of the best things you do for your overall care.

Cost considerations and strategies

Many people delay or avoid going to the dentist because they are concerned about costs. Two out of three Medicare beneficiaries (37 million Americans) have no dental coverage, and the total number of people without coverage is 74 million. In the grand scheme of things, however, dental fees are minor compared to the potential costs of long-term disease. Whatever must be paid now saves you from years of substantial financial commitment if a serious illness goes undetected.

To make going to the dentist more affordable, many dental offices now offer in-house insurance programs. Simply ask your dentist about your options or look online to see what your community has available.

Make your appointment—and protect your overall health

Many Americans (42%) say they don’t see a dentist as often as they’d like. The good news is that most people (85%) recognize how necessary regular dental care is for their overall health. Work with your dentist to figure out how often you should visit. Everyone has unique oral needs, so the first step is determining what frequency is best for you.

Don’t let your hurdles stop you from making a dental appointment. Lean on your dentist and others in your community for support, and carefully weigh all the available options. Never forget to prioritize your health. Take the first step, and you’ll be on your way to a brighter smile.

About the Author

Steven Ghim, DMD

Steven Ghim, DMD, is a cosmetic dentist who also provides general and comprehensive dental care. Dr. Ghim has over 20 years of clinical experience, and his private practice office is fully digital, ultra-modern, and serves the adult patient. He also serves as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force.