As you probably know by now, high-quality professional dental care isn’t exactly a bargain-basement item. Still, there are some dental procedures available right now at your general dentist’s office that can save you a whole lot of money—not to mention pain, suffering and lost hours at work—in the future. These treatments require just a minimal investment, but they can pay off big later; in fact, they are considered among the best values in dentistry. Here’s a run-down of our top five cost-saving treatments:
Brushing and flossing every day is essential for your oral health. But even if you are meticulous about taking care of your oral hygiene at home, you still need routine professional cleanings —especially if you are prone to buildups of the hardened deposits of dental plaque known as calculus or tartar. Your toothbrush and floss just won’t remove these deposits, which contain bacteria that promote gum disease.
Treating tooth decay or a gum infection that may result from a lack of routine dental care is a lot more expensive than having your teeth cleaned! Not only does a professional cleaning give your smile a fresh start and a new sparkle; a routine dental office visit also provides other benefits: Your dentist can treat small cavities before they become big problems, and screen you for oral cancer, a deadly disease that’s easy to overlook in its early stages and difficult to treat in its later ones.
Our teeth have an excellent natural defense against decay: the super-hard outer coating known as dental enamel, which is the hardest substance in the human body. Tooth enamel can, however, be weakened by acids in the oral environment. These acids can come from both our diet (in the form of soda, for example) and from certain oral bacteria that multiply when we eat sugary foods and/or get lax about oral hygiene. An excellent, inexpensive way to strengthen tooth enamel is by using a toothpaste that contains fluoride—a mineral that hardens tooth enamel by becoming part of it, or by using a fluoride mouthwash (mouthrinse). But brushing with fluoride toothpaste or using a fluoride mouthrinse isn’t always enough for teeth that are especially vulnerable. That’s why dentists sometimes recommend a professional fluoride treatment, which involves brushing a fluoride gel or varnish onto the teeth and letting it sit for several minutes. This simple treatment can even reverse cavities that are starting to form—and save you plenty of aggravation (and money).
If you look at your back teeth closely (or feel them with your tongue), you will notice that their chewing surfaces are not smooth. In fact, they are filled with little pits and grooves that make perfect hiding places for disease-causing bacteria. A toothbrush will glide right over these tiny spaces, leaving those nooks and crannies undisturbed. If food debris and bacteria sit there too long, cavities can result. One way to fight against this is with dental sealants: clear plastic coatings that fill in those little grooves, thereby reducing the chance that cavities will form. Getting dental sealants is an easy, inexpensive procedure that doesn’t even require a local anesthesia—or drilling. The sealant is simply painted on in a liquid form and then allowed to harden. Dental sealants need no special care and can last for years. While most commonly recommended for children, in some situations they can also be used for adults.
Tooth decay doesn’t get better on its own; it only gets worse. That’s why it’s so important to find and treat decay in its earliest stages. Your dentist does this by removing decayed tooth material and replacing it with a filling material, which can either be metal or tooth-colored. Silver-colored metal fillings are the least expensive, and they are very durable. Although some have expressed concerns about their mercury content, reputable medical and scientific organizations such as the American Dental Association continue to endorse them as an option for filling teeth. That’s because the mercury in a filling combines with other metals, making them stable and safe. Of course if a filling is needed in a very noticeable area of your smile, you may want to choose a tooth-colored composite resin filling, even though this might be a bit more expensive. Composite resins can also be used as a less-expensive alternative to a dental crown in certain situations.
Restoring chipped or broken teeth can be expensive, but there’s one option that costs a lot less than all the others: dental bonding. This procedure can be accomplished in just one dental appointment—unlike a veneer or crown, which usually takes at least two appointments. Bonding is a process in which tooth-colored composite resin material is brushed onto a tooth in layers and hardened under a curing light; the dentist waits for the first layer to dry before applying the next one. Layer by layer, the missing part of the tooth is built up until it looks whole again. The translucency of the bonding material creates a very realistic-looking repair. Bonding can be used to correct other cosmetic defects in teeth, such as minor cracks or gaps. However, a chip large enough to expose the tooth’s inner pulp tissue will need a root canal procedure and a crown. While it may not hold up as long as a crown or veneer, bonding is appropriate in many situations, and it costs far less.