The average person’s dental health is getting better, as is their access to dentist services. Dental and oral care spending in the United States hovers around $113 billion a year, and people are taking that spending seriously. We have access to better processes, better prosthetics, and better tools—including electric toothbrushes to give us a deeper clean.
That said, there are some major problems that continue to persist. So why, despite access to more information and better technology, does dental health continue to be problematic for so many people in the developed world?
Why Problems Still Exist
Preventative care and better products should, in theory, reduce the number of dental issues to a very small number, but there are some hurdles to making this happen:
- Improper use. Most products come with instructions on how to use them properly, and when used properly, they can stave off or eliminate the risk of dental problems. If you use them improperly, bad things can happen. For example, if you don’t use a fitted mouthguard, you could increase your risk of dental injury during a sporting event. When used properly, dental accessories like grillz can be safe—but they can also pose a hazard if not used correctly. Unfortunately, consumers are impatient or negligent of “proper use,” and they end up with more problems because of it.
- While dental care is more affordable than it used to be, it’s still expensive if you don’t have insurance. Basic procedures can cots hundreds to thousands of dollars, so many patients end up postponing them or never following through because they can’t afford those additional costs. Ultimately, this makes small problems grow into bigger ones.
- We can all get lazy when it comes to our dental health. We might skip flossing because it takes too much time, or cancel our semiannual dental checkups because our schedules are just too packed. Unfortunately, these little deviations from standard practices can add up to some real damage on your dental and oral health.
The Most Common Problems
These are the most common dental and oral problems, despite our increased access to care:
- Bad breath. Bad breath on its own is largely superficial; it can be embarrassing, but it’s not going to hurt you in the long run. However, bad breath has several potential root causes, many of which are problematic and require intervention by a dental health professional. For example, gum disease, excessive tongue bacteria, cavities, and oral cancer could all result in bad breath.
- Tooth decay. Tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the United States, second only to the common cold. Over time, plaque can form on your teeth. If that plaque reacts with sugars and starches in the food you eat, it produces acid, which can eat away at your tooth enamel. Cavities can also emerge as your tooth enamel naturally ebbs away as you age. Like most of the items on this list, tooth decay is largely preventable thanks to modern dentistry—regular checkups can identify tooth decay and stop instances from getting worse, and products like fluoride-based mouthwash can keep your teeth healthier.
- Gum disease. Gum disease is most common in adults older than 30, and smoking will significantly increase your risk for it, but it can affect anyone. Gum disease has two distinct stages: gingivitis and periodontitis. If you catch it developing in the early stage, you can take proactive measures to stop it from getting worse. If the disease is allowed to progress, you may lose some of your teeth.
- Tooth erosion. The layer of enamel that protects your teeth can be eroded over time. Brushing infrequently, consuming too many acidic beverages and foods, and aging can all facilitate faster tooth erosion—and if you have thin enamel, you’ll be even more vulnerable.
- Dental emergencies. Dental emergencies can happen to anyone. Falling down and hitting your face on the ground can leave you with a chipped, cracked, or missing tooth—which needs to be addressed right away. Sometimes, chewing something hard can lead to a cracked or broken tooth as well. These incidents are harder to prevent entirely, but they still represent a significant portion of dental problems.
Of course, these aren’t the only common dental problems. Crooked teeth, mouth sores, and oral cancer are also common, and can manifest or grow worse if not properly identified and treated at an early stage. Making advancements in our collective dental knowledge and access to effective products has helped us a great deal, but we need to close the gap if we’re going to mitigate these dental issues even further. That means making dental care more affordable, and encouraging each other to partake in the right habits regularly.