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Don’t Wait! Delaying Dental Visits can Create Problems and Pain

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Delaying Dental Visits can Create Problems

Don’t Wait! Delaying Dental Visits can Create Problems and Pain

August 15, 2005
By: Maayan S. Heller for Dental1

When their heads hurt, most people take aspirin; when their throats or stomachs ache, they see their physicians; but when people’s teeth hurt, most don’t call the dentist, according to recent findings.
Take Action
Avoid Oral Health Problems:

Establish a relationship with a regular dentist – you’ll feel more comfortable and you’ll be more likely to schedule regular visits

Teach your kids – emphasize the importance of regular brushing, as well as the need to admit when there is unusual pain

Look out for pain when you do things that are normally painless, such as chewing, talking, biting down, smiling

Brush every day, at least twice a day, and try to brush quickly after eating sticky or sugary foods

Regularly change your toothbrush, so you are always getting the cleanest teeth you can get


A study conducted through the University of Florida followed 703 randomly selected people 45 and older living in rural or urban areas in North Florida over four years. The researchers tracked a variety of data, including financial status, oral pain symptoms and usage of dental treatment and services for each of the study’s participants.

“According to the data from the recent urgent dental visit study males are the most likely to have oral pain and not visit a dentist,” said Joseph L. Riley III, Ph.D, an associate professor at UF’s College of Dentistry, an expert on oral pain and an investigator in the study. He added that the study also found that rural residents and African Americans tend to wait longest to see a dentist after developing oral pain.

While this study did not specifically address why these groups wait to deal with oral pain problems, Dr. Riley said that other studies have suggested a number of reasons.

“Certain attitudes and beliefs are one of the factors,” he said. “Some [people] believe that the decline of oral health as we age is inevitable.” Other factors include the belief that dental care isn’t useful, the perceived quality of past care and trust in the dental profession.

“There is a small percentage [of patients] that dread a dental visit to the point of avoidance for years,” Riley said, adding that further issues arise for people without a regular dentist or insurance. The cost of dental care intimidates many.

“Mostly it is a cost benefit issue,” he said. “Only when the pain or other symptoms like difficulty eating, or when people don’t like the way their smile looks [does] this group finally visit a dentist. Persons that don’t value their oral health are also less likely to take the time to brush and floss. It takes a lot to motivate them to go.”

According to Dr. Riley, there are serious consequences to delaying treatment once pain begins.

“The danger is that delaying allows the oral disease to advance and treatment is more painful and less likely to have a good outcome,” he said. He added that this tends to turn the problem into a “vicious cycle” – people delay their care and then have a negative outcome because the disease or problem has progressed, so their perception that dental care is ineffective and unpleasant is reinforced and they are then even less likely to schedule appointments.

Riley said that since dentistry is also a preventive profession, regular check-ups and cleanings are critical. “You could say that once there is pain, it is too late,” he said.

So what symptoms should alert you that it’s time to call the dentist? Pain is the biggest and most obvious, but you should also be alert to pain associated with oral functioning issues, like chewing, talking and smiling.

Riley said he believes the problem of waiting for dental care can be reduced, especially with awareness to its existence. “It is an issue of changes in the perspectives of certain people about oral health and dental care,” he said.

But Riley also acknowledged difficulties in changing social perceptions. “It will be difficult to change adults that are already in the cycle (delay – pain – unpleasant visit with poor outcome – delay more the next time),” he said. He added that adults who avoid visits when they have pain also tend not to schedule the “pleasant” check-up and cleaning appointments which would reinforce the truth that dental care isn’t always painful and unpleasant.

Incorporating dental visits into your regular health routine is the best way to avoid problems. Riley said the best place to start is with kids. “They need to establish good oral health habits early and this includes a regular dental visit – like once a year.”

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