Why See Your General Dentist as Regularly as Your Primary Care Doctor?

Doctor Steven Ghim

Serious question for you: if you had to choose between going to your primary care doctor and your dentist, which one would you pick?

If you said you’d ditch your dentist, then you’re not alone. People tend to be comparative when they think about their health, putting their providers in a sort of hierarchy of importance. But oral health and general health are tightly linked, and seeing your dentist regularly should have the same priority level as seeing your physician.

A trained and trusted eye

Dentists go through years of intense training to provide the specialized services you see them for. But that training doesn’t place oral health in a bubble, because dentists have learned that oral and general health go hand in hand. For instance, diseases like diabetes can disrupt hormonal balances and stress your immune system. With those things off-kilter, other issues, like thrush infections, can flare. This works the other way, too. A bad infection in your tooth, for example, can turn septic.

Dentists get formal education within their licensure and certification related to the signs and symptoms of a range of diseases. Doctors trust them to help spot problems and usually are very willing to take a collaborative, team-based approach to keeping you well that includes your dental provider.

When you’re in the dental chair, your dentist can screen for those conditions and give you a heads up if they see anything concerning. They can give you the referral you need to get in to see your primary doctor (or a specialist) and make sure everything’s okay. And if the doctor does diagnose you with something, then there’s a good chance you’ll catch the problem early on and have more treatment options as a result.

What your dentist can help you spot

You probably know that a dentist can often spot head or neck cancers. But they can detect many other conditions, as well. Some of the disorders that dentists can find include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Diabetes
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sjorgren’s syndrome
  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Anemia
  • Mental Health Disorders

Importantly, dentists can also use poor oral health to uncover mental health concerns, too. For instance, people who are depressed or who are suffering from eating disorders can skip regular brushing and flossing or have dental damage. Because mental health conditions can influence eating patterns, sleep, the ability to take medications properly, exercise habits, and many other behaviors, they have a direct influence on your physical wellness and overall enjoyment of life.

How often should you visit?

The general consensus among dentists and other health providers is that you should visit the dentist once or twice a year (every six months). Regularly visiting the dentist will help catch and prevent any oral health issues that can lead to major problems down the line. Additionally, everyone’s physical needs and biology are unique.

So, there’s room to improve when it comes to taking advantage of all the expertise your dentist has. And Delta Dental now recommends that, even though the twice-a-year standard is still a good general rule of thumb, you should have your doctor tailor your visit schedule based on what’s personally appropriate for you. For example, plaque and tartar can build up much faster for some people than for others, in which case throwing in another cleaning can be helpful.

By following your personalized calendar, you’ll take care of dental needs and ensure that you have plenty of opportunities for your dentist to perform screenings for cancer and other conditions that could put you in jeopardy. Seeing your dentist properly in this way can be a lot cheaper than paying to treat conditions after they’ve advanced, but if cost is holding you back, then ask your dentist about in-house insurance, dental school services, discount programs, or other options.

For optimal health, prioritize your dental visits

Good health care should involve seeing your doctor regularly. But the best health care allows you to rely on the expertise of many professionals who all have your best interests at heart, and who can collaborate in ways that recognize the big picture of your life. So, don’t pick and choose or think in hierarchies. View your dentist as a health advocate who is just as important as your doctor, and make regular dentist appointments for routine care and screenings. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to stay well for the long run.

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Dr. Steven Ghim is a cosmetic dentist who provides general and comprehensive dental care. Ghim has over 20 years of clinical experience. He also serves as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force.

Charlotte, NC

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