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How Often Should You Go to the Dentist?

Posted Jun 19 2013 10:33am

Last week, the Journal of Dental Research published a study that questions the conventional wisdom of twice yearly dental visits. Professional reaction was no surprise:

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Still, you might wonder: Are semi-annual exams and cleanings, as one headline put it , “really necessary”?

Twice-yearly cleanings have been recommended for more than 50 years without supporting evidence, the researchers noted in a university news release. They explored the link between long-term tooth loss and frequency of preventive dental visits (teeth cleanings) in adult patients with and without three key risk factors for periodontal disease: smoking, diabetes, and interleukin-1 genetic variations.

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The researchers found that high-risk patients – those having at least one of the three risk factors – receive significant benefit in preventing tooth loss from two dental cleanings per year. In high-risk patients with two or three risk factors, more than two cleanings per year may be needed to prevent tooth loss.

In low-risk patients – those who had no risk factors – the second cleaning did not have significant value in reducing tooth loss beyond that achieved with one cleaning each year.

Of course, smoking, diabetes and genetics are far from the only risk factors for gum disease. There’s poor nutrition, bruxing, stress and age, among others . That quite a few of these are chronic in our society today goes a long way in explaining why most Americans have some degree of gum disease already, with one out of every two adults having it in the more severe form of periodontitis. (It’s estimated that 75% have the less severe form of gingivitis.)

In other words, most of us probably do need that second visit. A good many of us would likely benefit from more.

But there’s a much more important take-away from this paper: a “personalized medicine approach” may be more sensible than a blanket recommendation for all.

We couldn’t agree more.


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