If your gums have been throbbing, you’ve noticed some decay, or you fear something more serious is taking place within the confines of your jaw, your doctor may recommend that you undergo a dental procedure. It may be tempting to ignore that big ulcer residing within your mouth that your tongue just can’t seem to leave alone. If, however, you leave dental issues unattended, they’re often more likely to worsen. It’s important to understand the warning signs, seek professional advice and guidance, and accept what may be required of you: a dental procedure.
It may be acceptable to ignore certain points of pain, depending on the situation. For example, if you’ve accidentally dropped your phone on your face while lying in bed, the pain may only be temporary and not a cause for concern. If, however, you’ve had constant toothaches, have noticed bleeding or swollen gums after brushing or flossing, or can’t seem to eat ice cream anymore without temperature sensitivities knocking on your door, you might be better of acknowledging these symptoms and seeking the help you need.
Other warning signs may include:
- Sores and ulcers
- Loose teeth
- Frequent bad breath
- Receding gums
- Clicking of the jaw
- Broken teeth. (1)
If you’ve come to the conclusion that something isn’t quite right and needs correction, it’s important to take the recommended steps to prepare properly. This can help alleviate any unnecessary anxiety on your part. Heading into a dental procedure without any prior knowledge of what to expect—or how to care for yourself before, during, and after—may only lead to further complications.
Depending upon what your specific oral issues are, the procedures will generally vary in length, expected pain, and required preparation. Some practices, for example, may be less invasive than others. Undergoing work on one tooth isn’t the same as having a complete jaw realignment, for example. The reason for your procedure may also be for cosmetic purposes, such as whitening or having veneers attached, therefore, the recovery period may be significantly shorter than others.
Before outlining the various procedures available, it’s important to note that the term “oral surgery” is not specific to one problem. Oral surgeons can usually help patients with varying ailments such as impacted teeth, jaw-joint issues, overbites/underbites, and cancer treatment. If you suffer from breathing difficulties, an oral surgeon may also be able to assist you. (2)
Other dental procedures include but are not limited to:
- Fillings and repairs
- Dental implants
- Tooth extraction
- Root canal therapy
- Wisdom teeth removal
- Crowns and caps
- Gum disease (periodontal disease) treatment
- Teeth straightening
Key factors to consider before undergoing any of the above dental procedures
How common is the issue?
When you’re faced with the unpleasant news of having to have something corrected or improved on your body, you may feel like the only person on the planet has to deal with this problem and consequently suffer some fear and embarrassment. As isolating as it may feel, however, understanding how many others face similar issues and how common the actual procedures are, may put your mind at ease to some extent—even if the figures are alarming in a global sense.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.5 billion people worldwide are affected by oral diseases. Oral cancer is also prevalent, especially among men, with 1-10 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in various countries. Bringing oral hygiene dilemmas closer to home, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that one in four American citizens suffer from untreated tooth decay. The morbidity rate among adults aged 20-44 with untreated dental caries sat at 25.9% as of 2018. (3) (4) (5) (6)
The American Dental Association (ADA) also shed light on the matter in 2015, highlighting several concerning figures, many specific to low-income citizens in a household survey. 42% of low-income adults, for example, struggle with chewing and biting difficulties, and the majority of those surveyed ranked “pain” as their top oral health problem. (7)
They also uncovered the negative effects of leaving conditions unattended. These include:
- Avoiding smiling
- Feelings of embarrassment
- Increased anxiety
- Reduced participation in social activities
- Affected ability to interview for a job (7)
Common reasons as to why individuals choose to neglect dentist visits were also explored. The cost of the visits as well as any additional fees for required procedures was understandably ranked as the highest reason. This was followed by fear/anxiety, inconvenience, and trouble finding a decent dentist. (7)
The above statistics may provide you with some comfort in knowing that a large number of people in the world are also forced to endure certain oral-health-related mishaps. The ubiquity of certain conditions may also mean that the dentists and oral surgeons that you visit will be familiar and qualified to deal with those problems. It’s also vital to note the consequences of ignoring said issues.
How much will it cost?
One of the most important considerations—and often most asked about—is the affordability of dental procedures. Finding an affordable dentist may prove difficult if you’re unsure of where to look, if your current paycheck is barely covering your rent, or if you’re hazy about what government-issued assistance or private health coverage may be available to you.
The prices will obviously vary depending on which dental clinic you visit, as well as the extent of the procedure itself. According to an aggregated list of costs assembled by Care Credit, dental procedures throughout the United States can range from as low as USD$75 for a wisdom teeth removal (simple extraction) and USD$300 for a root canal, to up to USD$8000 for premium dentures, USD$10,000 for a full mouth periodontal surgery treatment, and up to USD$150,000 for a full mouth dental reconstruction. (8)
When it comes to public aid for such procedures, the U.S. in particular has often fallen short of meeting its citizens’ health needs.
According to a public health report published by the US National Library of Medicine, publicly financed reimbursement programs that cover the provisions of oral health services are often scarce or non-existent. Medicare, while offering a certain number of preventative screenings for those eligible, doesn’t offer any free or subsidized services.
Only 28 states in the U.S. provide dental benefits to adults enrolled with Medicaid, beyond necessary care in emergency situations. The lack of publicly-funded dental care coverage understandably affects individual’s ability to afford certain much-needed procedures, which raises questions about the country’s overall health system. (9)
Private dental health insurance and benefits, however, may spark your interest. According to a 2018 industry overview report published by WhyDental in cooperation with the National Association of Dental Plans, approximately 172.8 million Americans had private dental coverage, 93% of whom received their benefits through an employer or other groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). (10)
There are several dental plan programs available depending on your circumstances, including the following:
- Direct reimbursement
- “Usual, customary, and reasonable” (UCR)
- Table or schedule of allowance
These services vary in regards to what they offer. Some pay a percentage of the overall dental procedure cost, while others will pay a consistent amount each month to a specific dentist that will cater to your needs.
It’s essential to research your insurance and benefits options in order to properly estimate the overall pricing of your desired course of action.
It’s important to be made aware of the benefits that dental procedures can offer. If you’re anxious about the surgery/practice, hearing of the advantages of doing so may put your mind at ease and allow you to see the bigger picture.
Obviously, the perks will vary depending upon what you’re actually having done. However, the following will provide you with a basic outline of common procedures and their benefits:
Wisdom teeth removal:
- Fewer problems relating to crowding
- Prevention of damage to nearby teeth
- Decreased risk of oral disease
- Reduced inflammation
- Less pain
- Prevents the risk of tumors and cysts
Root canal therapy:
- Halts the spread of infection
- Prevents jawbone degeneration
- Improves oral health
- Stops cavities from growing
- Improves tooth structure
- Strengthens fractured teeth
- Protects teeth from decay
Jaw realignment surgery:
- Balances the appearance of your lower face
- Improves tooth function
- Enhances sleep, chewing, and breathing abilities
- Improvement in speech impairments
- Pain relief
Learning of the risks associated with your particular operation may not be ideal in the sense of creating undue fear. It’s still vital to be made aware of the potential disadvantages, threats, and issues you may encounter during or after the process and what actions may be put in place to counteract or remedy them. According to the ADA, under their code of conduct dental practitioners are legally obligated to inform their patients of the risks involved before they consent to any proposed treatment plans. (11)
As mentioned above, the risks associated with certain treatments will also vary. Some, however, include:
- Dry socket (alveolitis)
- Osteonecrosis of the jaw
- Loss of a tooth
- Tooth damage
Your dentist may recommend a certain procedure more than others, or paint it as the only available option. If for whatever reason you’re uncomfortable with the proposed plan, it’s wise to know if there are any alternative choices for you. Dentures, for example, may not be your cup of tea. You may, therefore, choose to accept the most common alternative: dental implants.
Alternatives to a root canal, posited by Colgate, include:
- Natural remedies
- Ozone gas
- Calcium hydroxide (12)
Alternatives to dental crowns may include:
- Provisional crowns
Is your dentist/surgeon is qualified?
If you’re aware of what course of action you must take, ensuring your dentist/surgeon is qualified is key in order to ensure you’re properly looked after. It may surprise you to learn that there are fake dental clinics in the U.S., as well as in other countries, that can do more harm to their “patients” than good. Therefore, knowing beforehand whether the individual carrying out your operation is indeed the certified professional they claim to be is crucial.
The specific requirements to be a dentist or oral surgeon may vary from state to state. Generally speaking, however, to become a qualified dentist, you need a degree in dentistry, dental science, or dental surgery; or you need to complete a degree in a related field, before then completing a qualification in dentistry or dental medicine/surgery. A university degree is, however, only the first step. (13)
According to the ADA, licensure is only granted if the following basic requirements are met:
- Written examination
- Clinical examination (14)
Oral (and maxillofacial) surgeons, more specifically, may be required to take the following steps:
- Undergraduate preparation—fulfill required credit hours
- Apply for dental school—take the Dental Admissions Test
- Attend dental school—take appropriate/required classes
- Undergo dental licensing examinations—National Board Dental Examinations and hands-on examinations (will vary depending on the state)
- Complete specialty residency program and receive certification (15)
There are also other methods of understanding whether your dentist is of good reputation and quality. These include looking at “before and after” photographs of those who have had the same or a similar procedure, reading reviews, and/or seeking out recommendations.
Preparation and Aftercare
One of the most important things to know before having any dental work done is how to prepare and how to care for yourself afterward. Often, when it comes to oral-related practices you are required to take a few key steps before entering the clinic. If, for example, you’re having surgery done (whether mild or major) it may be wise to have someone else drive you, especially if you’ll have to undergo sedation (anesthetic).
Other preparations may involve:
- Wearing appropriate clothing (for IV insertion)
- Bringing any required documentation/desired items along
- Arriving early
Aftercare processes may include:
- Rinsing with saltwater
- Eating soft foods
- Using ice packs
- Taking prescribed antibiotics/other medications
- Brushing carefully
- Keeping the mouth clean
Having dental work done, whether small or large, can be a daunting experience. You may only wish to whiten your teeth, or you may have to undergo major surgery. Regardless of which level of medical or cosmetic practice you require, it’s wise to know a few key components before undergoing a procedure. Preparing yourself both physically and mentally is important, as well as confirming that you’re in good, capable hands.
Understanding what alternative options are available to you is also worth remembering, as one size—or standard procedure—may not fit all. Doing your homework thoroughly beforehand may aid you in lessening your dental-related anxieties.
- “Everything You Need to Know About Dental and Oral Health”, Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-and-oral-health
- “Do You Need Oral Surgery?”, Source: https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/need-oral-surgery
- “Oral health”, Source: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/oral-health
- “What is the burden of oral disease?”, Source: https://www.who.int/oral_health/disease_burden/global/en/
- “Adult Oral Health”, Source: https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/adult-oral-health/index.html
- “Oral and Dental Health”, Source: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/dental.htm
- ‘Oral Health and Well-being in the United States”, Source: https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/OralHealthWell-Being-StateFacts/US-Oral-Health-Well-Being.pdf?la=en
- “Average Costs: Dentistry and Orthodontia”, Source: https://www.carecredit.com/dentistry/costs/
- “U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Oral Health Strategic Framework, 2014–2017”, Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4765973/
- “Industry Overview”, Source: https://www.whydental.org/about/industry-overview
- “ADA Statement on Dental Patient Rights and Responsibilities”, Source: https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/About%20the%20ADA/Files/statements_ethics_patient_rights.pdf
- “What Alternatives To Root Canals Should You Consider?”, Source: https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/root-canals/alternatives-to-root-canals
- “How to become a Dentist,” Source: https://www.gooduniversitiesguide.com.au/careers-guide/dentist
- “Licensure Overview,” Source: https://www.ada.org/en/education-careers/licensure
- “What Do You Need to Do to Become an Oral Surgeon?” Source: https://work.chron.com/need-become-oral-surgeon-17283.html