"Use it or lose it": Dental Insurance

Around this time of each year we send a note to our patients with dental insurance. This very important note has a very important message….”Use it or lose it”! We are referring to dental insurance benefits. Most dental insurance plans start over on the first of every calendar year. So if you have need treatment at the dentist and you have remaining insurance benefits, now is a great time to make an appointment to get things done.

Let me explain a little bit about dental insurance. Be glad if you have it!  If your employer gives it to you as part of a benefits package, it is part of your pay. It’s something that most people don’t have. I call it a discount program for the dentist. It may not pay for everything, but it sure helps. Different plans cover dental care in different amounts. Within the same insurance company you can find plans that cover a little or a lot. Some only cover preventative care like cleanings and x-rays. Premium plans may cover 80-90% of dental work up to a certain yearly maximum.

If you are unsure of your coverage you can talk to your employer or Human resources department. If you have a dentist, the staff at the office should also be able to help. In my office, Kim is the insurance expert. She can get you reliable information on what your insurance will cover and what your out of pocket expenses will be so you can plan for your dental care.

Patients often ask me if they should purchase a dental insurance policy. My answer is always the same. You need to crunch the numbers. For an individual, often you are paying as much for the insurance policy than you would ever be able to get back from it. For a family though, it may make sense to have a family policy. Remember that new insurance laws make it mandatory that each child be covered for dental care as an extension of health insurance. Your health insurance provider should be able to help you with this.

Question: Why does the dentist want me to go there every six months to get my teeth cleaned? I don’t think that’s necessary.

Answer: Historically dentists have recommended a cleaning appointment usually with a dental hygienist every six months. This is usually accompanied by an examination with the dentist. X rays are taken every year on average to detect cavities between the teeth and to check bone levels.

That being said, there is no reason why an individual’s plan for keeping their teeth healthy can’t be customized to meet their specific needs. In my practice I have a plan for each patient. Some follow the above regimen and it seems to work very well to keep their teeth healthy. Other people need more or less. When you have periodontal disease you need to keep it under control so those patients may come every three months for a maintenance appointment with the hygienist. This seems to be the right amount of time between visits to keep the disease process under control. I have other patients that only come once a year to get their teeth cleaned and have x-rays every couple of years, but these patients have beautiful teeth, no cavities or periodontal issues.

If you want to make sure you have a plan that works for you, talk to your dentist. Maybe there is a reason you need to be seen every six months and once it is explained it will make sense to you. I am a firm believer it being your own health advocate and being able to make informed decisions.

If you want to see the dentist less, here are some tips! First, have a meticulous oral hygiene regimen. We recommend brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Using an antiseptic mouth rinse like Listerine is also helpful. Do you do that everyday?

Secondly, watch your diet. Snacking on sugary drinks and foods without brushing afterwards is a great way to get cavities. Good snacks for your teeth are cheese (which contains an enzyme that helps control decay), water, or veggies.

Lastly, nip small problems in the bud before they become big problems. Don’t put off regular checkups, because that is the way we can detect problems like cavities when they are small and easy to treat. Putting things off just makes problems bigger, more expensive to fix and involve more time and discomfort.

Have an honest conversation with your dentist and dental hygienist about what they see and how best to keep your teeth in good shape so you can keep smiling.

Deborah Petronio D.D.S.

Aurora Dental Care


Question: My six year old’s new front teeth are coming in twisted. Should I take her to an orthodontist?

Answer: Beginning around age five or six every child begins to get their adult set of teeth. Usually we see the “six year molars” appear behind the last baby teeth. Shortly afterward the two middle front bottom teeth will get loose and come out, allowing for the new incisors to make their way into the mouth. This is usually a great time to have an evaluation of your child’s bite. Your general dentist will check this at your regularly scheduled hygiene appointment. This is a good time to start talking about options for any treatment that may be recommended. Some general dentists and pediatric dentists have training in orthodontics in addition to their primary discipline. These dentists may do some orthodontics in their practice and feel comfortable treating your child. Most dentists will refer to an orthodontist. Orthodontists are specialists that have 2-3 more years of training beyond dental school in orthodontics and limit their practice to orthodontics only. An orthodontist not only does braces, but also monitors growth and development. An early consultation with an orthodontist may seem unnecessary to some parents since the child doesn’t have all their adult teeth, but actually monitoring is important. During a consultation to an orthodontist, she/he may gather information and records to determine whether your child might need some early form if intervention. It has become more frequent that the child may need some form of an appliance to expand the arches to allow all the teeth to come in. In years past, many people had to have teeth removed during the process of orthodontics. This is no longer the case, and many other benefits can be obtained by early intervention.

 The American Orthodontic Society recommends that a child be seen for an orthodontic consult and the first sign of an orthodontic problem, or by age 7 at the latest. As I said, this first contact is usually with your child’s dentist. The dentist will decide if a consult with an orthodontist is necessary. In my practice I actually do treat some children with appliance therapy and orthodontics. In the majority of cases I refer to an orthodontist though, and encourage patients to seek several opinions if they have questions about their child’s recommended treatment.

Dr. Deborah Petronio can be reached by calling Aurora Dental Care at 652-0190 or visiting www.auroradentalcare.com

Question: What is the best snack to give my kids after school that is good for their teeth?

Answer: Kids come home from school ravenous. They want something to fill their bellies to tide them over until supper. As parents, we want don’t want them to just munch on chips or candy and soda. Fortunately there are lots of healthy snack ideas out there. As a dentist I am always interested in ideas that don’t contain a lot of sugar. I learned that cheese is one of the best snacks. Don’t get the processed kind because it doesn’t have any of the benefits of real cheese. Cheese contains no sugar and also has an enzyme that inhibits tooth decay. That makes it a great snack when your child isn’t going to be able to brush afterwards. Here are some other snack ideas:

  1. Smoothies are sure to please. Use frozen or fresh fruit to sweeten them
  2. Yogurt is tasty. Buy unsweetened yogurt and add fruit and maybe a touch of honey.
  3. Homemade sweet potato chips. Slice or make wedges. Spray lightly with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake until crisp. You could also make a dipping sauce.
  4. Home made snack mix. Mix unsweetened banana chips, nuts, popcorn and whatever else you like and put it in bags so it is ready to go.
  5. Fruit can be cut up ahead of time and then its ready for snacks. Another fruit idea for young kids is fruit racers. Cut two grapes in half and use toothpicks to attach them as wheels on the bottom of an apple wedge.

These are a few ideas, but you can get lots more by looking on the internet. You could do a search or you could use an app like Pinterest.

I hope this inspires you to think about snack that not only taste good, but are good for you children’s health and their teeth!

Question: My front teeth are worn and chipping! I hate how it looks and I don’t know how this happened. What can I do?

Answer: It sounds like you have been grinding your teeth for some time. The medical word for this is bruxism. It is very common for people to grind their teeth. Reasons include anxiety, poorly aligned or missing teeth, and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

As a dentist, I see signs of bruxism every day in my patients. As you said, tooth wear and breaking is one of the common side effects of grinding. This happens over the years, but when something breaks that is usually a sign that the bruxism may be serious. If teeth are severely worn or broken a conversation with your dentist is necessary. Express your concern and see what options are available to restore your teeth. These options include bonding tooth colored filling material, lab created restorations like crowns, or even extracting a tooth and replacing it with an implant.

Along with tooth wear and breaking, another side effect of bruxism is loosening teeth, especially if there is periodontal disease present. When you lose bone that supports the teeth in your jaw due to periodontal disease, grinding just exacerbates the problem. I have always used the analogy of loosening a fence post from the ground by knocking it around. It eventually loosens the soil around the post so that it lifts right out. The same thing happens to a tooth when you combine bone loss and grinding your teeth.

People who grind their teeth may also complain of frequent headaches and facial pain. When you grind, you are engaging the muscles that close your jaw. When these are squeezed for long periods of time they can cause pain and have even been attributed to migraines. People who have Temporomandibular Joint(TMJ) problems will have those problems worsened by grinding.

So what do you do? A thorough dental exam is a must. Your dentist has experience to know how to handle this. Some complicated cases may be referred to a specialist, but routine handling of bruxism is usually done by a general dentist. They may recommend a nightguard if you are grinding your teeth at night. This is a plastic guard that fits over the top or bottom teeth and acts as a shield so that you end up grinding the device rather than your teeth. It works well if you only grind at night. If you find that you are clenching or grinding during the day the dentist may want to help by referring you for chiropractic care or physical therapy. Relaxation techniques and exercises may be prescribed. In acute situations, medication may be prescribed. If restorative dentistry is required, the dentist may make a nightguard afterward to protect that investment.

Everyone experiences some wear on there teeth due to normal chewing over the years. If you see that you teeth are getting short, breaking, chipping or loosening, it may be a sign that something more serious is going on. Ask your dentist about it soon!

Question: I read on the internet that Fluoride is bad for you. Is that true?

Answer: Well, to answer that question, I have to begin with saying that you are correct in questioning scientific information that you get from the internet, especially from social media sites like Facebook. These are not quality scientific sites and therefore some of the“science” is not reliable.  That being said, there has been a long standing debate about the benefits of fluoride. When you see the anti fluoride stories on the internet, they often say they have scientific studies to back up their claims of brain damage, brittle bones and even autism. These studies were done in the few places in the world where the natural fluoride levels are thousands of times higher than normal. These studies should not be used to show that fluoride in toothpaste and drinking water are dangerous because the comparisons are just not valid. Too much fluoride is toxic. The same is true of all medicines and vitamins. In its proper dosage, fluoride is safe and has many health benefits. Babies and small children should not use toothpaste with fluoride because they will tend to swallow it.  Start the fluoridated toothpaste when they can reliably spit and rinse.

Some of the benefits of fluoride include the following. Fluoride in drinking water can reduce cavities by as much as 60%. Fluoride treatments in the dental office can reduce decay by 40% when given twice a year. Using a fluoride toothpaste can reduce cavities by up to 25%. Fluoride is also used with adults to reduce sensitive teeth and as an antibacterial rinse to help control periodontal disease. Adults who have “dry mouth syndrome” due to medications or certain conditions greatly benefit from fluoride to combat cavity formation. These are tremendous benefits!

The boom in drinking bottled water has greatly reduced some people’s exposure to fluoride. Most bottled water does not have any.  Mayer Bothers water in this area is one brand of bottled water that contains fluoride.  Also well water may not contain any fluoride. If you want to know how much fluoride is naturally occurring in your water you can have it tested. Then your dentist or physician can adjust the dosage of fluoride supplements accordingly.

All in all, the use of fluoride has helped curb tooth decay. As a dentist, I rarely have to do fillings on children in my general practice. This may not be the same for all dentist in all areas, but boy, I wish I had more fluoride when I was growing up!  If you have any questions about fluoride I recommend talking to your dentist. The American Dental Association also has good information on their website.

Question: My mouth is dry all the time. What can I do about it?

Answer: Dry mouth or xerostomia is a condition shared by many people. There are many reasons for dry mouth, but one of the most common is due to some prescription medications. There are over 400 medications which list dry mouth as a side effect. Some of the symptoms include

  • a sticky, dry feeling in your mouth

  • thick or stringy saliva

  • a burning sensation

  • sore tongue, lips (especially at the corners)

  • altered sense of taste

  • bad breath

  • increased plaque and decay

    Other factors which contribute to dry mouth are stress, radiation treatment to the head and neck area for cancer treatment, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, and Sjogren’s syndrome.

    Because dry mouth increases your chances of tooth decay and other problems, caring for your teeth and gums at home is vital. You should brush with a soft toothbrush twice a day, and floss every day to remove debris from between your teeth.

    Increasing fluid intake should help. Frequent sips of water or sucking on ice chips is a good way to get fluids. You may have a dentist or physician recommend over the counter saliva substitutes from the pharmacy. Prescriptions may need to be changed, or you may have a prescription for a medication that increases saliva production. Avoid tobacco, caffeine, and carbonated beverages. Sleeping with a humidifier may help.

    Regular checkups are imperative because dental decay and other problems can crop up quickly. If you have any questions please contact me at Petronio@auroradentalcare.com or visit our website at www.auroradentalcare.com