Visiting The Dentist 101 - Everything You Need To Know
By Stephanie Datt
Many people put off their dental visits until they experience some kind of pain. Often people leave their visits until the pain is unbearable or the problem hinders their everyday life. Unpleasant as it may seem, regular check-ups are good for everyone.
Taking care of your oral health will improve your overall health and wellbeing. Your ability to eat, converse and socialise largely depends on it. Poor oral health can cause discomfort, embarrassment, and pain.
Australia’s Oral Health
AIHW 2017- 2018 data on Australia’s oral health show that:
✅ 1 in 2 Australians have seen a dentist in the last 12 months.
✅ 3 in 10 adults aged 25-44 have untreated tooth decay.
✅ 42% of all kids aged 5-10 have experienced tooth decay in their baby teeth.
✅ 1 in 25 Australians aged 15 years and over have no natural teeth.
✅ In 2016, there were 57.7 dentists per 100,000 people in Australia.
There is also evidence that poor oral health is linked to chronic diseases such as stroke and diabetes, oral cancer, and lung and cardiovascular diseases.
Common Concerns with Dentist Visits
If you intend to visit a dental centre, you may be worried about nasty surprises.
What if the dentist starts pulling out my teeth? Will he be disgusted by the state of my mouth? What if I can’t afford treatment? These are all perfectly normal concerns but you’ll find, after a visit, that many of them are quite unfounded.
Firstly, your dentist will never perform any work on you without prior authorisation. Even if they recommend treatment, you can refuse to have it. While it is advisable to heed your dentists’ advice, you will always have the final say.
Just like every medical practitioner, your dentist has seen it all. A major factor in people holding off dental visits is worrying about being judged for poor oral health. The thought of a dental team tsk-ing their way through your mouth causes many people to suffer through untreated dental pain. While all dentists are different, most are friendly and reassuring, because they understand that most people have these qualms.
It is no secret that dental visits don’t come cheap. Having private health insurance will help alleviate most, if not all of your dental visit costs. If you aren’t privately insured, the costs can be alarming. You can ask your dentist if they are willing to treat you on a payment plan or consider taking out health cover.
Dentistry through history
Dentistry is one of the oldest medical professions, dating all the way back to 7000 B.C.
Most of us fear dental visits even with anaesthesia. Imagine our forefathers with their primitive tools and lack of numbing medicine.
The approach to ancient dentistry for different cultures is quite interesting. The Chinese wrote prayers for relief on small bits of parchment. They then wrapped the paper around the troublesome tooth.
Ancient Sumerian text reveals that the civilisation believed in the presence of tooth worms. The idea was that the pain of dental decay was formed by worms burrowing into and residing in your molars. Treatment for this sometimes involved a hand-operated drill to get the offending worm out. It wasn’t until the 1700’s when the worm-tooth theory was finally disproven!
In the middle ages, dentistry was often a blacksmith or barber’s side job. Extraction was the most popular method of treatment.
Patients everywhere no doubt breathed a bit easier when Dr Horace Wells introduced painless dentistry with nitrous oxide in 1844. Before that, it was more than likely that patients had to be knocked out senseless before treatment.
Routine Dental Checks
Dentists recommend that you visit them for a check-up and clean every 6 months. If you’re going in for preventative care, expect a routine dental clean.
You will most probably be asked how you’re feeling, how your teeth have been, and about your dental history.
Routine cleaning involves a check for cavities and a clean-up of any build-up or tartar. A dentist will perform this using a small mirror and a scaler around your gum line and in between your teeth. Patients do not typically experience pain.
You might need to have an X-ray to determine if there are any cavities between your teeth. Using a periodontal probe, your dentist will check to see how healthy your gums are.
Usually, your dentist will also check your tongue, throat, face, neck and head. This is just to determine if there are any anomalies relating to your oral health.
Preventative care like examinations and cleaning goes a long way in terms of saving costly dental treatments. Many health funds, such as nib & Australian Unity to name a few will offer you no-gap check-up & cleans when you visit one of their dental centres
Preventative care saves the pay-out of hefty treatment costs for your health fund and saves you discomfort, out-of-pockets, and pain.
Common Dental Treatments
You’re sitting in your dental clinic, already nervous, and your dental hygienist starts saying things like, ‘let’s book you for a bonding session.’
What’s a bonding session? Here’s a quick rundown of some common dental treatments to get you up to speed with oral health care.
Bonding is made up of a type of plastic called composite resin. It is made into a paste and tinted to match your tooth colour. This paste is then plastered on to repair chipped, fractured, decayed and discoloured teeth. It can also be used to fill in gaps between your teeth. Several layers of the composite will be pasted on and then hardened under ultraviolet light. This procedure will finish with a shape and polish to achieve a natural look.
Braces are used to correct bite-related problems and the alignment of teeth. The steady pressure of the brace causes the teeth to straighten over time.
Bridges literally bridge the gaps in your teeth. These are false teeth held in place by its neighbouring teeth.
Implants can support more than one false tooth by a titanium screw that serves to replace the root of a tooth. These then provide support for artificial teeth.
If your tooth has severe damage, stains, or is misshapen, it can be capped with a crown. These fully encase the whole visible area of a tooth that sits above the gum line. These are quite costly and are made from acrylic, porcelain, metal or porcelain bonded to metal.
Porcelain crowns look more like your natural teeth and are mainly used for front teeth. Metal crowns are usually used for back teeth because of its strength.
There are two types of prosthesis to replace missing teeth- full and partial.
This is the dental specialty that deals mainly with the study and treatment of the inside of your teeth. The most common procedure an endodontist performs is a root canal.
If your tooth has irreparable or severe damage you may consider extraction. This is a removal of your tooth and may also be done for orthodontic purposes.
Fluoride treatments come in the form of highly concentrated rinse, gel, foam or varnish. These treatments have a higher concentrate of fluoride than toothpaste. You will be asked to avoid eating or drinking 30 mins after treatment to allow the fluoride to fully absorb.
Gum disease has two stages- gingivitis and periodontitis. This disease affects the gums and bone, resulting in a loss of teeth and gum. Gingivitis is treatable but periodontitis may require gum surgery to reverse damage.
Otherwise known as braces, this is the specialised service of dentistry that deals with correcting bites and the straightness of teeth.
If your tooth is injured, cracked or decayed, a root canal may treat it. The tooth will be opened and cleaned of any infected tissue in its centre. Then it is filled and then sealed. This method is good in that it keeps your natural tooth. This will keep your other teeth from falling out of line and save you from getting an artificial replacement.
Veneers are wafer-thin pieces of porcelain that are bonded to the teeth. These are usually to improve the appearance of damaged or stained teeth. These can also be used for cosmetic reasons instead of crowns and caps.
Medicare does not cover dentistry unless it affects your general health, like oral cancer. This means there are no prescribed or set fees. There are also no standard fees for dental procedures in Australia.
The body that regulates dentistry (AHPRA), focus solely on the quality of care provided. They also monitor professional, registration, and code of conduct standards. While they ensure that you get the best service, they do not have any set cost guidelines. This is because dentists’ treatment methods and techniques vary greatly. Where it may take one dentist 30 minutes to treat a patient, it may take another 2 hours. Also, overhead costs, type of equipment and material used, and location vary for each dentist. This basically means that dentists can charge whatever they like.
Dental cover in insurance policies comes in 3 forms; general dental, major dental and orthodontic. General dental may include cleaning, scale and cleans and fillings. Major dental typically covers treatment that requires surgery. These are procedures like gum disease treatment, veneers, and crowns.
The following costs are what some dentists charge for treatment:
- Comprehensive oral exam: $52-$93
- Scale and clean: $90-$160
- Fluoride treatment: $24-$65
- Extraction: $136-$298
- Preparation of root canal: $185-400
- Braces: $5000-$8000
- Dentures: $950- $2000
It is always prudent to discuss fees with your dentist and health fund upfront. Dental visits are already alarming without the fees involved. Most people take out an extras policy with a private health insurer to assist with fees of their dental visits.
*Endodontic dental, generally falls within major dental.
Finding the best dental cover
Maintaining your smile can often destroy your pocket. Many people find that the only way to stay ahead of these costs is to take out an extras policy with a health fund.
What is extras cover? This is an insurance policy that includes dental care in its plan and is relatively easy on the budget. This not only covers you for your dental visits, but for prescription glasses as well as physiotherapy, and other services generally not covered under Medicare.
You can enjoy reasonably priced dental services up to a yearly limit and cut back most of your out-of-pockets. You will find some really great policies with high or even unlimited yearly limits for preventative dental. Some health funds have their own dental centres, which mean higher benefits for you.
Want dental cover and don’t know where to look? No problem. Health Deal is a free health insurance comparison service. Our highly trained team’s primary goal is to ensure that you get the best value for your family. This will save you time, any confusion, and most importantly, your hard-earned money.
There are over 40 health funds and hundreds of policies. You can either research yourself or compare now on our website. This service only takes a few minutes. If you already have cover and want to switch, we’ll take care of that too. If we can find you a better deal than the one you currently have, we’ll even arrange the transfer, so there are no awkward goodbyes.