I was prompted to write this piece after reading that the majority of Americans don’t see a dentist even once a year.  And if they are not seeing a dentist, it means they are not getting their teeth professionally cleaned.  I have my teeth professionally cleaned every 4 months, and I have the dentist examine my mouth once a year, which includes 4 bitewing x-rays, to see between the teeth.  The total cost of this care per year is about $350.

Americans need to realize that oral decay, and particularly chronic gingivitis, can ruin your health. The link between rotten gums and heart disease is proven.  The infective process in the gums leads to the dispersion of plaque-inducing, inflammatory molecules throughout the blood stream, causing heart attacks.  Gum disease increases your overall risk of dying- by a wide margin. You are a ticking time bomb if you have bad gums.

Obviously, prevention relies on sound nutrition and good dental hygiene at home.  Green vegetables, beans, and raw nuts are the best foods for teeth-building, and they comprise a big part of my diet. And although I’m a big fan of fruits, and I eat my share, the fact is that fruits do not serve your teeth as well. If your diet is too high in fruit, your teeth will definitely suffer. The sugars in the fruit are, obviously, an issue, and so are the fruit acids, which can dissolve dental enamel. In moderation, fruits are fine, but don’t eat fruits at the expense of vegetables and other plant foods.  Grains, too, are not considered the best for your teeth.  As I said: vegetables, beans, and nuts are where it’s at when it comes to building strong teeth.

As regards dental hygiene at home, I try to brush after every meal, and I floss thoroughly at least once a day.  Sometimes, I will floss twice a day. For instance, if I have had oatmeal, I will floss immediately afterwards because oatmeal tends to accumulate a lot between the teeth.

Keep in mind that I have a goal: to live a long life and never require dentures. Dentures are one aspect of aging that I would like to skip. To do that, it’s going to take superior nutrition and diligent dental hygiene.  But, knowing how important it is, I am up for the task.

A recent study found that not only do millions of Americans forgo dental care, but millions live in areas that are underserved by dentists.  “A severe shortage of dentists in rural and minority areas is contributing to the persistent and systemic barriers to oral health care,” the report noted. The economic downturn is also taking a toll. It is estimated that 5 million American children are not seeing dentists at all because of their parents’ lack of money.  And, the report said that two-thirds of American seniors do not obtain adequate dental care due to insufficient income. This is really a tragedy. And yet, they keep telling us that we are the richest country in the world.

"We have the lowest ratio of dentists to population that we have had in 100 years," says Shelly Gehshan, who directs the Pew Children's Dental Campaign. "This is a serious problem that leaves 40 to 50 million people out of reach of a dentist at any given moment."

I urge you to make your teeth a priority. The few hundred dollars I spend each year on professional dental care is worth every penny, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a paltry sum, so why worry about it.  Besides, I economize in other ways; for instance, I don't buy medical insurance. I say, get your priorities straight, and your teeth are a priority.