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Oral health: It’s more than just a smile

When I was in the Marines, the last thing I worried about was my teeth. I got checkups while I was serving, but after I left the service and lost those free checkups, I didn’t go to the dentist as often as I should have. Some new problems crept up and old ones came back.

Sound familiar? It’s pretty common for us to forget about our dental health once we leave the service. Auto insurance, mortgages and taxes seem to be more important than dental bills. As you get older, though, a lot of things that you take for granted suddenly become a concern.

We need to pay more attention to our teeth and gums. I’ll give you three reasons why it’s important.

  1. It affects your quality of life.

    I know a lot of Veterans who are losing teeth due to periodontal (gum) disease. As a result, they’re embarrassed to smile, and it becomes difficult to interact with people because of problems with their teeth. They feel uncomfortable in business meetings and interviews. Their self-esteem falls. To get that smile back, they have to get costly implants and dentures. They aren’t living a happy life.

    It gets worse. Simple things such as eating, drinking and even talking can become a chore, and other problems such as bad breath and gum infections can arise from not taking proper care of your teeth and gums. These problems can cause chronic pain, doing further damage to your long-term mental health.

  2. It affects your overall health.

    I was surprised when I first heard of the link between oral health and general health, but it’s true. Poor brushing and flossing can cause gum disease, which is an infection that can lead to all kinds of problems, including tooth and bone loss, infections in the heart and even pneumonia.

    Gum disease is linked to low birth weights in babies and premature births, and although more studies are needed, scientists think there may be a link between oral health and cardiovascular disease.

    Other diseases and conditions can worsen gum disease. For instance, I’m a diabetic, and high blood sugar levels can make it easier to get infections. That means I’m at a higher risk for gum disease. Getting my teeth cleaned regularly can prevent gum disease and can actually lower blood sugar levels and improve my condition.

  3. It saves you money.

    Getting small problems treated now can prevent more costly procedures down the road. I’m now having to get crowns to replace a lot of the fillings I received as an enlisted man. If you don’t get that cavity filled now, it may mean costly root canals, crowns and even implants down the road.

    A simple cleaning and exam, coupled with good hygiene, can prevent thousands of dollars of dental work. Dental benefits can help with the costs. Plans offered through VADIP, the VA's dental insurance program, include 100% coverage for cleanings and exams at network dentists, plus you'll pay less for more costly procedures if you need them.

It’s the simple things

I know: We Veterans are tough, and we don’t like being reminded of small everyday things like brushing, flossing and going to the dentist. When I was serving overseas, brushing my teeth wasn’t important, and flossing was almost unheard of. But oral health problems can compound, and I’ve seen first-hand what a difference good oral hygiene can make.

It really is this simple:

  • Brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
  • Floss daily, either with regular dental floss or an interdental cleaner that uses water to remove plaque. It only takes a few minutes.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and oral exams.
  • Don’t smoke.

And remember to take advantage of dental plans through VADIP. Delta Dental offers three options to fit your needs and budget, all of which cover your preventive care at the dentist.

Do yourself a favor. Take a few minutes to take care of your teeth, and they’ll take care of you as you grow older.

Joe Montoya is a market outreach representative for Delta Dental of California. He has worked with the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program, Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance Program, U. S. Public Health Service Active Duty Dental Program, and federal employee dental programs. He retired from the armed forces after 27 years of service with the U.S. Marine Corps and Army National Guard.

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