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Smokers Have More Oral Problems But Often Skip Dentist Visits

Dental Care is Essential Medical Care

Smoking and other tobacco use can cause a lot of damage to oral health, including bad breath, stained teeth, and increased plaque buildup that can lead to gum disease. On the more severe end, tobacco use can lead to oral and esophageal cancers. Unfortunately, although they have more issues, smokers are less likely to visit a dentist.

Researchers with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed responses received from a 2008 survey of more than 16,000 adults aged 18 to 64 years. Twenty percent of smokers reported not visiting a dentist in at least five years, despite having, on average, three or more dental problems – more than twice as much as people who had never smoked.

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CDC statistician Robin Cohen says that although smokers are aware of their poor dental health, “they’re not doing anything about it.” Half stated they could not afford to see a dentist. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 43% of us delay dental care due to cost. The magazine suggests the following ways to help lower the costs of dental care:

  • Shop around and bargain. Look up typical insurance-paid rates in your area at FairHealthConsumer.org and HealthCareBlueBook.com, then ask providers to accept that amount, or less, as a cash payment.
  • Consider free and low-cost clinics and health centers. Some community health centers offer dental care with fees based on the ability to pay. Consumers should call their local health department to find one nearby.
  • Look into dental and dental-hygienist schools. Consumers who are willing to be treated by supervised students can avail themselves of schools that offer free or discounted care to the public. A list of schools is available on the American Dental Association website.
  • Investigate dental discount plans. For an annual membership fee of around $50 to $100, one can get access to a network of dentists who have agreed to discounted rates. But Consumer Reports recommends that consumers watch out for pricey add-ons and extra procedures they don’t need.
  • Don’t forget the obvious. Brushing and flossing regularly can reduce the amount of problems caused when you neglect your oral health.

Another reason for delaying dental care is the perception that it is a “luxury” instead of a true medical need. Remember that your dentist is an essential part of your overall health, not just the health of your mouth. Dentists are trained also to look for signs of other medical issues such as diabetes and heart disease.

If fear of the dentist is holding you back – and some studies suggest that as many as 50% of us suffer from some degree of dental fear – scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden offer the following advice:

  • Adopt an optimistic attitude. "The study has shown that patients who adopt an optimistic mindset cope with dental treatment significantly better and they visit the dentist more regularly than patients who spend their time in despair", says Jenny Bernson, who conducted two studies on patients with fears of the dentist.
  • The team also suggest humor as a method of coping with dental fear. Bernson says, "Psychological barriers can be broken down by humour, both as a result of the patient and the dentist coming together more as equals, and as a result of humour reducing stress, increasing well-being and creating a pleasant atmosphere.”

Source References:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Smoking and Oral Health In Dentate Adults Aged 18-64" NCHS Data Brief, Number 85 February 2012.
University of Gothenburg, "Optimism and Humour Can Help to Combat Dental Fear"
Consumer Reports, "What You Can Expect to Pay for a Dental Procedure"