The best dental insurance is the cheapest | Dr. Rich

I am often asked by people, both in and out of the office, “What is the best dental insurance I can buy?”

They are usually surprised by my answer: “The best insurance out there by far is also the cheapest.”

What am I talking about? Dental floss and an electric toothbrush. Tooth decay is not a natural event. The majority of dental decay is caused by our overly refined diet, which is high in sugar and other carbohydrates. Additionally, the number of acidic foods and beverages consumed in this country add significantly to the problem of tooth decay.

Sugars and other refined carbohydrates are used as a quick energy source by Streptococcus Mutans, one of the many bacteria that live in our oral cavity, and the one specifically responsible for tooth decay. That easy source of quick energy feeds the bacteria’s metabolism, just like it feeds ours. Of course, anything that eats has to produce waste. In the case of the bacteria, that waste takes the form of acid, contained in the sticky plaque matrix that builds up on your teeth over the course of the day. If it’s not thoroughly removed on a daily basis, it builds up and gets even thicker and harder to remove. If left undisturbed for too long, it mixes with minerals in your saliva and becomes calcified. At that point, no amount of brushing or flossing will remove it. It now acts as a hiding place for even more acid producing bacteria, and the problem snowballs.

The acid begins to break down your enamel, and eventually completely penetrates the enamel layer and moves on into the inner part of your tooth, called the dentin. The dentin layer is seven times softer than your enamel, so the decay process accelerates at that point. There are only a few millimeters of dentin between your enamel and the nerve of your tooth, so if the decay is not removed and a filling placed, eventually the bacteria invade and infect the nerve of your tooth, requiring a root canal or extraction.

Of course, our immune systems are meant to handle all kinds of attacks on our bodies, and dental bacteria are no exception. However, everyone’s immune system is different, and is impacted by age, genetics, stress, diet, smoking, diabetes and certain medications, to name a few risk factors. That is why some people are more prone to decay and gum disease than others with similar oral care habits. While there is not much you can do about your age or genetics, many of the risk factors are within your control. Those with known risk factors can reduce their risk of decay and gum disease by modifying their oral care habits and diet. If you have several of the risk factors mentioned above, you must be extra vigilant about maintaining excellent oral health care and making sure that you minimize or eliminate dietary sugars, refined carbohydrates and acids like cola or energy drinks.

Remember, the plaque bacteria already produce damaging acid as their waste. You can’t do anything about that except brush and floss it off regularly. However, don’t help them destroy your teeth by adding extra acid via your diet. While a manual toothbrush can do an excellent job with patience and dexterity, studies have repeatedly shown the advantages of using a quality-powered toothbrush. An excellent one with several scientific studies to back its effectiveness is the Sonicare. You can purchase one for about $100, far less than the cost of one filling. Floss is very inexpensive and easily available. Don’t like cutting off the circulation to your fingers? Individual floss piks and floss handles are available to solve that problem.

The biggest challenge is changing your habits to include the few extra minutes per day this “insurance” requires. An excellent “rider” to add to your new policy is a prescription strength fluoride re-mineralizing gel like MI Paste or Prevident 5000. These can actually help to reverse early damage as well as prevent future cavities. Your dentist can dispense or prescribe these products for you.

So, now you know the secret of the best and the cheapest dental insurance money can buy. Following the recommendations above will greatly reduce your chances of developing expensive dental problems. Why not consider making at least one resolution for the coming year – to purchase and use the “dental insurance policy” I’ve described?

Dr. Stuart Rich, DDS., can be reached at 253-939-6900 or

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