Dear Lifehacker, I know I’m supposed to go to the doctor once a year and the dentist twice, but do I really need to? Whenever I get a physical I feel fine and there’s really anything wrong with my teeth. Do I really need to have these visits so frequently or am I just paying for nothing?Sincerely, Happy and Healthy
The short answer: yes, because preventative care is important. When you’re young, fewer problems happen, and so it seems like a waste of time. You probably can get away without seeing the doctor every year for a physical checkup or skipping a few dentist appointments, but you may miss something important and wind up with bigger health issues and larger medical/dental bills. For the same reasons we pay for health insurance, you want to take advantage of preventative care. It’s better to spend a little time making sure you’re OK and catching problems before they arise than spending heaps of time and money trying to fix the ones you missed.
That said, there’s more to the answer than a simple yes. Let’s take a look at why you should care about your yearly visits with both the doctor and the dentist separately.
You should visit a dentist twice a year, and here’s why: while doctor visits are more about making sure everything is up and running nicely, dentists perform a lot of routine maintenance to prevent problems that could occur if you do nothing. I spoke with my dentist, Dr Wendy Bach, to get the specifics:
There are three reasons: periodontal disease, tooth decay, and gum disease.
The first reason is that the body naturally builds up plaque and calculus and if it’s not removed it embeds underneath the gum tissues and quietly causes periodontal disease. It doesn’t hurt but it silently produces enzymes that dissolve away the bones.
The second reason is tooth decay. A little cavity can be taken care of. A big cavity becomes a compound problem. In its biggest stage, it can cause suffering and swelling but also the loss of a tooth. We don’t want to lose teeth because that’s the main way of chewing food and our main support system. It starts a domino effect by putting more pressure on the teeth and causes more compounded problems.
The third reason is that there’s a strong correlation between gum disease and heart disease. Junk on the teeth produces billions of bacteria that ends up in the blood stream. While bacteria normally exists in the mouth, gum disease increases that level so dramatically increased that it gets carried through the blood and can end up lodged in the heart and clog blood vessels.
So while you might not notice a lot of issues with your teeth if you skip a visit or two, you run the risk of causing some very serious problems if you don’t visit the dentist regularly.
Doctors specialise in certain kinds of medicine, but given the way most healthcare systems work, you see a primary physician to determine any issues before seeing a specialist (if necessary). For this reason, your yearly checkups don’t include the a full-body tuneup like a dentist can provide for your mouth. That said, any problems you do encounter are much easier to solve if you catch them early. I spoke with Dr Spencer Nadolsky, an osteopathic physician and director of Examine.com, to find out what we all should know about these yearly physicals:
Depending on age and risk factors, physicians are recommended to start screening for diseases like hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), colon cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer, etc. When patients start getting these diseases we have them follow up more often (e.g. blood pressure checks).
Yearly checkups are a good idea just to know what preventive services you might need and to also get your vitals checked. The US Preventive Services Task Force has a list of things that are recommended based on age and sex.
The yearly checkup also gives you a chance to consult with your doctor and discuss any ongoing issues you’ve noticed since your last visit. You can bring up anything out of the ordinary and figure out solutions to these problems. In the future, we’ll hopefully see additional methods of detection and risk assessment (such as through DNA markers) in order to better determine what kind of preventative care each individual needs. In the meantime, you’ll have to keep filling out those long history forms and visit your primary care physician yearly for a checkup.
If you don’t like going to the dentist or the doctor, just try to see these visits as a means of paying it forward. If you go more now, hopefully you’ll avoid major issues and can go less in the future.
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