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3 common mouth problems you’re ignoring — and what it’ll cost you

Some of the most-common oral health problems are cavities, gum disease and infectious diseases.

Though you may not have suffered from these conditions yet, it’s likely that you’ve experienced some of their root causes.

Many Americans don’t go to the dentist when they should, so it can be difficult to identify those minor mouth problems. This is especially true for those who are uninsured:

  • 56% receive no preventative care.
  • 54% haven’t seen the dentist in more than a year.
  • 67% delay care because it’s expensive.
  • $275 average cost for a dental exam without insurance.
  • 67% have at least one major unmet dental need.

Although those reasons are understandable, ignoring small problems now could mean bigger issues down the road. In fact, uninsured Americans are: more likely to have heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes.

And with bigger health issues come bigger medical bills. Below, find out how your minor tooth decay, sore gums and cracked tooth could turn into major hurdles—and what you can do about it.

Mouth problem #1: tooth decay

92% adults have tooth decay, so chances are high that you’ve suffered from tooth decay at some point in your life. If it’s so common, it must not be a big deal, right?


Tooth decay, when untreated, can lead to more serious problems. Oftentimes, it’ll develop into tooth sensitivity — a condition that 30% of uninsured Americans have.

When you suffer from tooth sensitivity, you’ll experience soreness or even pain when your teeth encounter a hot or cold food or drink, as well as when you apply pressure, like during chewing. If it hurts to chew every time you eat, you’re likely to eat less often, which can lead to unhealthy weight loss.

You may or may not experience sensitivity when the decay evolves into a cavity. Cavities affect almost 100% of adults, and 25% of those adults have untreated cavities that continue to worsen.

If that cavity leads to a necessary filling and you’re paying out-of-pocket, expect to spend around $170 for a resin composite back tooth filling.

This can be a pretty steep price to pay, but an untreated cavity can cause an abscess or pus around your tooth to form. These can turn into major toothaches with nasty side effects: bitter taste, bad breath, fever and swollen glands/jaw.

From there, your tooth may fall out, which can lead to a loss of self-esteem. Physically, it can also cause infections in the mouth, and these can cause life-threatening bacterial infections in the body — or even sepsis (when the bacterial infection enters the bloodstream).

What you can do about tooth decay:

The most effective way to prevent tooth decay is preventative care. This includes brushing your teeth at least twice daily, seeing your dentist regularly, and cutting back on habits that harm your oral health.

If you’re past the point of prevention and need a way to treat your existing tooth decay, increase your fluoride intake with toothpaste and fluoridated water. You could also try fluoride gel, varnish, tablets or mouth rinses.

Mouth problem #2: sore gums

Sore gums are the result of a number of things: aggressive brushing, poor oral care and certain medications, to name a few. Because there are so many causes, it’s not surprising that 19% of Americans without dental insurance have unhealthy gums.

Though they might be tolerable, it’s not a condition you should ignore for long. This soreness can lead to swollen, red or bleeding gums. 

From there, swollen or bleeding gums are likely to turn into gingivitis, which is the early stage of gum disease. Signs of gum disease typically don’t show until you’re in your 30s or 40s, so it’s a problem that’s likely to go undetected.

Unaddressed gum disease turns into periodontal disease, or periodontitis. This is the most severe form of gum disease, and approximately 6% of adults have a severe form of periodontitis.

Periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss and can also cause gum infection, tooth extraction, abscess and pus build-up. It’s also been found to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Pregnant women have even more cause for concern. Gum disease can increase the risk for pregnancy complications, including pre-eclampsia, premature birth and low birth weight.

What you can do about sore gums:

Prevention is key. Brushing at least twice daily and going for regular dental exams, as well as a reduction in harmful habits, can help prevent problems with your gums.

When you suffer from gum soreness, warm and cold compresses and salt water mouth rinses can help reduce the pain and discomfort.

Mouth problem #3: cracked tooth

The thought of cracking a tooth is cringe-worthy for many, and it’s much more than just a cosmetic issue. It can cause serious health problems if neglected.

28% of uninsured Americans have chipped or broken a tooth, and not everyone addresses the issue. But over time, that little crack can turn into a gaping hole—in your tooth and your wallet.

Cracks can grow bigger, eventually being big enough that a piece of the tooth breaks off completely, exposing the pulp (the inner, soft tissue of the tooth). This is when the tooth starts to discolor, turning yellow, green, brown or even black — another threat to self-confidence.

Because so much of the tooth and the pulp is exposed at this point, the chances of infection are much greater. Bacteria can infect the pulp, causing a larger infection that spreads to the mouth or the rest of the body.

You might have to get your tooth pulled, or even root canal therapy if the case is more severe. The average cost for a root canal in a molar is just over $1,000, but when you include the associated costs (filling, crown, etc.), that grand total can be as high as $2,500 without insurance.

What you can do about a cracked tooth:

Many teeth chip or crack because of a collision, often in sports or when chewing hard foods. Immediately after the trauma, ice the area to prevent swelling and reduce pain.

If a piece of the tooth has fallen off and you can recover it, keep it dry. Endodontists specialize in treating cracked and chipped teeth, and they might be able to bond the broken piece of the tooth back to its original home.

Regardless, it’s always best to contact your dentist or endodontist when you chip or crack a tooth to receive their expert counsel.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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