When Diane Foster and Lindsey Burgess were talking about dental health with coworkers, they were floored to learn most of them don’t follow dentists’ recommendations.
Only one-third of the employees to whom Foster and Burgess spoke visit the dentist for a checkup twice a year, which dentists have long advised. It should be noted, however, that persons at risk for periodontal disease should consider going more often, and one’s frequency of visits should be tailored by his or her dentist based on current oral health and health history, according to the American Dental Association.
So, the two women volunteered to share their dental exam stories in an attempt to win over the other two-thirds.
Of the more than 65 percent of employees who don’t go twice a year, half don’t go at all.
“They are scared, but usually it is because of a traumatic experience at the dentist when they were younger,” says Foster, deputy clerk to the Ontario County Board of Supervisors and a Wellness Champion representative for Ontario County.
One woman was very sensitive to nitrous oxide and nearly didn’t wake up after being incapacitated by the gas, Foster learned. Another endured having a tooth drilled by a dentist who did not administer the local anesthetic Novocain, she says.
Those are frightening incidents, but not the norm, Foster says.
When it comes to dental hygiene, Foster did not want to follow the lead of her mother, who was not yet 20 years old when her teeth were pulled and replaced with dentures.
“She had very soft teeth and that was the cheap and easy way to take care of it,” Foster recalls. “She went across the border (to Canada) and had them taken out for a buck apiece.”
Foster’s parents couldn’t afford to pay for frequent dental exams for Foster and her siblings. When she was in her late teens and was able to foot the bill, she needed 13 or 14 cavities fixed at once.
From that point on, she’s seen the dentist twice a year. Her four wisdom teeth have been pulled and she has endured painful root canal surgery, but her oral health today is in great shape.
“I have strong, very healthy teeth now that they are straight. I’d like to keep it that way,” says Foster.
Foster carries dental floss with her and has never had gum problems, only a few small cavities since taking control of her dental health.
Foster would tell the leery to not give up, and to shop around for a dentist who treats people with high anxiety.
“I’d hate to see people lose their wonderful smiles,” she says.
Setting an example
Burgess, the deputy director of human resources for Ontario County, has also avoided major dental problems. She thinks it’s because she brushes every morning and night, and tries to floss daily.
She wants to set an example for her daughter Franki, 3, who accompanies her to the dentist twice a year
“It’s very important to start them young,” Burgess says.
It also gets Franki comfortable with visiting the dentist.
“She loves going. They make it a game,” she says. “The chair goes up. The chair goes down. And Franki brushes her teeth each morning and night.”
Burgess was surprised a third of her peers avoid the dentist completely.
“I go to the dentist regularly, so I don’t have any major issues,” Burgess says. “I don’t dread the dentist.”
Nor does Franki.
“She gets excited and likes to go,” she says. “She gets a sticker, and a new toothbrush and wears fun glasses when they shine the bright light on her (for the exam). I think it’s a benefit to start her so young, so she’ll go twice a year like I have.”