Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Choppers can be stoppers

Ever procrastinated getting that tooth 'looked at' by the dentist and regretted it? Now imagine you've done that, it flares up with a nice abscess, and you are in an emergency situation with no hope of relief. Great planning!

So, after much procrastination myself, today I went and had some dental work. I'm just like most people and would rather do almost anything rather than have my teeth messed with -- especially the drilling. I can feel it vibrate my skeleton down to my toes. But we must BITE THE BULLET (how's that for a bad pun??) and keep our teeth in good shape.

Your plans for preparation items must include toothbrush(es), paste or equivalent, floss and some antiseptic mouth rinse. Doesn't need to be official mouthwash, but should be something meaningful and safe. That could include hydrogen peroxide (the 3% in the brown bottles -- takes some getting used to, so practice with a small amount a few times first and don't swallow it!), an unsugared alcoholic beverage such as vodka or gin, or unsweetened cranberry juice (from concentrate).

You must take care of your teeth NOW as well. Brush several times each day with a SOFT toothbrush and toothpaste or baking soda. At minimum, brush when you wake up so that you don't blow your morning breath on everyone, and again after your evening meal and then don't eat anymore before bed. Floss at least once a day, and after flossing use the mouthwash. Why? Because you have just rearranged the bacterial plaque on your teeth, possibly introducing it into the soft tissue of your gums, so clean up the 'wounds.' Soft toothbrushes are better for your gums and can help prevent gum disease. If you like to use a medium toothbrush to remove more of the 'scuz' from your teeth, use it after a good brushing with a soft toothbrush so you don't shortchange your gums.

Do your homework and find a reputable dentist. I prefer one whose children are grown and whose house has been paid off! If your employer offers dental insurance, buy it and use it. Get your teeth checked and cleaned twice a year if possible. Do not procrastinate getting any pain checked out. Schedule the work as soon as you find out that you need it. KEEP YOUR TEETH. If that means a root canal and crown, it will serve you better than having an otherwise salvageable tooth pulled and getting a bridge. Once the tooth is pulled, you can begin to lose jawbone, and the teeth on either side may be weakened or lost. Implants may be a good alternative if you have them available where you live, and can help preserve the jawbone. Your preparations should also include some items for dental emergencies and even for 'home cleaning' if it becomes necessary.

For dental emergencies, little kits are available at most drug stores. They usually have clove oil or eugenol, little cotton pellets and some temporary filling/cement material, along with some instructions. At minimum, the kit can provide some relief or allow you to temporarily re-set a crown that become dislodged. We have used these more than once, including one time that my husband broke a molar while away on business and was able to get one of the kits and patch it until he could get back and see our dentist. There are also kits with dental cleaning instruments available at drugstores, or some slightly more robust ones over the internet. These should be used with care, and at minimum go on the internet to find some information on how to use them to clean teeth in the absence of professionals if you are in a prolonged emergency.

Why is this a frugal topic? Everything you do to keep your teeth healthy and functional in your mouth will help avoid higher expenses later. An exam and cleaning are usually under $200. If you are really strapped, then only have the cleaning annually, but get the check up. A root canal with the crown can run as much as $1500 each. You can buy a lot of floss and cleanings with that amount of money. No amount of money can help you with that procrastinated dental problem if you are caught in an emergency situation ( think Katrina, Japan earthquake/tsunami) and the nearest dentist can't be accessed for weeks.

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