Most of us think of insurance as a means to protect us and our families from unforeseen loss. While that’s the general definition, some insurance plans — like dental — don’t quite work that way.
The typical dental plan actually works more like a discount coupon for dental services. Most are part of an employer-based benefit package and usually “fee-for-service”: the insurance company pays for part or sometimes the entire bill after your dental visit based on a fee schedule laid out in the policy.
A plan’s benefits depend on what the insurer offers to cover and what level of coverage your employer (or you) are willing to pay for. Typically, the more items covered under the policy, the higher the premium. Any deductibles (the amount you must pay out of pocket before receiving any plan benefits) can also affect the premium — the lower the deductible, the higher the premium.
The benefits may also be limited due to what a patient’s dentist charges for services. Most insurers pay benefits based on what they determine to be the “usual, customary and reasonable” (UCR) fee for a particular service. The dentist’s fees are most often higher, however, resulting in the patient paying a higher percentage of the bill.
Still, a dental plan can work to your financial advantage, especially if it’s employer-based with premiums paid by your employer. It may not be advantageous, however, if you’re paying the premiums. For example, a person without insurance might spend on average $200 a year for basic dental care (mostly preventative — checkups and cleanings), while a person with insurance may have those expenses covered, but are paying yearly premiums of $500 or more for the plan.
You should also consider one other factor: our first priority as dentists is to pursue the best course of treatment for your particular dental needs, which may not always align with what your policy covers. At the same time, we understand the limitations you may be under with your plan — we work in this world every day. We’ll certainly assist you in navigating the insurance waters to achieve the best care for what you can afford.
If you would like more information on dental insurance and other financial arrangements, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Insurance 101.”
One of the most widely used forms of dental imaging is the bitewing x-ray. So called because of the shape of the device that holds the exposable film a patient clenches between their back teeth, the bitewing x-ray is an effective means for detecting the earliest stages of tooth decay.
These early signs are small lesions on a tooth surface caused by mineral loss in the enamel. While we can identify them on front teeth through visual examination or bright lighting, they’re nearly impossible to see on the biting surfaces of back teeth. The bitewing x-ray solves this problem.
During the procedure, a narrow beam of x-rays is directed at the back teeth area. Since X-rays can transmit through solid matter, they pass through the teeth and gums to expose the film attached to the bitewing assembly.
X-rays pass through matter at different rates depending on the density of the tissue — a slower rate for harder tissues like teeth and bone and a faster rate for soft tissues like the gums. As a result, x-rays through teeth expose less of the film and appear as a lighter image than the gums. This difference is so precise even a tooth’s softer dentin appears slighter darker than its harder outer enamel.
This precision helps us identify decay lesions. Because the lesions on the enamel are less dense than the normal enamel, they’ll appear as dark spots. By detecting them at this stage we have a better chance for reversing the effects of decay or at least minimizing damage that’s already occurred.
Because x-rays emit radiation, there’s a natural concern about over-exposure and we go to great lengths to reduce it. Children may undergo a bitewing x-ray twice a year for developing teeth, while adults with healthy teeth are typically x-rayed just once a year. Advances in digital film and other technology have also helped lower the exposure rate.
Today’s standard 4-film bitewing x-ray produces about four days worth of what we receive on average from normal background radiation, so the health risk is quite negligible. The benefit, on the other hand, is much greater — the early detection of tooth decay could ultimately save a tooth.
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
For millions of Americans, sleep apnea is a serious health condition. Not only can it impair your day-to-day living, you might be more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke.
Sleep apnea occurs when you stop breathing for short periods while asleep. When blood oxygen drops too low, your body automatically wakes you to take a breath. This can disrupt your sleep several times a night. Chronic symptoms like drowsiness, irritability or headaches during the day, or indications you're a loud snorer, are all possible signs of sleep apnea.
Fortunately, we can treat sleep apnea. One way is continuous airway pressure therapy (CPAP), a pump device that supplies pressurized air through a mask to keep the airway open during sleep. Although CPAP is effective, some people find it uncomfortable to use.
There's a more comfortable option for sleep apnea caused by mouth structures like the tongue or tonsils obstructing the airway. It involves a custom-fitted oral appliance worn while you sleep that moves these structures out of the way.
Such appliances come in two basic types. One type fits over the upper and lower teeth and uses tiny metal hinges to move the lower jaw and tongue forward away from the airway. The other fits around and presses the tongue down like a tongue depressor to move it forward.
Before starting treatment, we need to first find out if you actually have sleep apnea and what's causing it (some cases may be more acute and require advanced treatments like jaw surgery). We'll need to perform medical and oral exams and take a history, and we'll likely refer you to a sleep medicine specialist for further testing.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, a custom-fitted appliance could be a good solution. We'll create and adjust it according to your particular mouth and jaw contours for maximum comfort. Besides the appliance, you might also lose excess weight, adjust your sleep position, seek treatment for allergies, and quit smoking. All these could help reduce sleep apnea.
In any event, your first step is to find out if you have sleep apnea. From there we'll help you find the right treatment to improve your overall health and well being.
If you would like more information on treatments for sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
There are well-known holidays on the calendar this month, but here’s one that might have escaped your notice: “Keep America Beautiful Month,” which is observed throughout April! At this time, people from coast to coast are encouraged to clean and beautify their communities. So why not think of it as an occasion to spiff up your smile? Here are five ways to do exactly that:
Have your teeth professionally cleaned. A routine dental visit, which includes a professional cleaning and exam, is one of the best preventive healthcare values there is. It’s a chance to catch dental problems (including potentially serious ones like oral cancer) before they become more difficult to treat. A dental professional can remove built-up deposits of tartar from your teeth using specialized instruments—something you can’t do at home. Plus, you’ll leave the office with a freshly polished smile that looks and feels great.
Get a professional teeth whitening. Having whiter teeth often makes people look more youthful. And one of the best ways to brighten dull teeth is with professional teeth whitening. You can achieve the fastest, most dramatic results with an in-office treatment—up to ten shades in just one visit! We can also make you a custom take-home kit to achieve similar results over time.
Repair chipped teeth. If you feel self-conscious about a chipped tooth, consider cosmetic bonding. In this relatively inexpensive procedure, which often takes just one office visit, tooth-colored resin material is applied to the chipped area and hardened under a special light. The translucent resin is built up layer by layer, bringing teeth with minor flaws back to a great, natural-looking appearance.
Replace old dental work. Sometimes old dental work can stand out more than we’d like it to. This is especially true of amalgam (silver) fillings—but even white fillings can absorb stain after many years. If you feel old dental work is detracting from your smile, it may be time to replace it with up-to-date dental materials.
Straighten your smile. Did you know that there is no maximum age for successful orthodontic treatment? It’s true: Healthy teeth can be moved at any age. And if you think metal braces wouldn’t fit in with your look or lifestyle, consider one of the less-visible alternatives to traditional orthodontic hardware—such as ceramic braces and clear aligners.
Having the smile you want can make you feel more confident in any month of the year. If you’d like more information on cosmetic dentistry, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger” and “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
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