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What does preventive dental care cover?

Often covered at up to 100% by dental insurance, dental care covers teeth cleanings, exams, X-rays and more.

13 minute read

Your teeth go through a lot every single day, and over time, these everyday acts contribute to wear and tear. Sometimes you might chew on a snack that is a little too hard and causes a bit of discomfort when you bite down. Or maybe you do not floss as often as you should.

These small events can cause dental problems without proper preventive care. The preventive dental services covered by your insurance provider can help you maintain your oral health and help save you money on procedures that are more urgent, complex, and costly.

What is preventive dental care?

Preventive dentistry is the simple practice of caring for the teeth to keep them healthy. This covers education about your teeth, as well as going through the treatment and practice of maintaining cleanliness and care for your teeth and gums. The forms of preventive dental services can range from good, precise brushing and daily flossing to regularly coordinated check-ups with your dentist. Practices like the ones mentioned help keep the teeth at their most optimal health.

Preventive care provided by your insurer

Dental insurance often covers preventive care at a higher rate than other dental services—usually between 80% to 100%1. Preventive care typically includes the following services:

Teeth cleaning

A dental cleaning is a routine, preventive procedure usually performed by a dental hygienist. They will use special instruments during the cleaning to remove things like plaque build-up and tartar from your teeth and beneath your gumline. They will examine your teeth to check for areas of decay and let your dentist know if they notice something that needs special attention. It is not uncommon for them to also floss and polish your teeth.\

Your dental hygienist will also assess your gum tissue and conduct a periodontal probing. The latter is simply measuring the depth of your gum tissue with a periodontal probe to establish the state of health of the periodontium.

During your cleaning appointment, your dental hygienist also looks for areas where you need to brush or floss better. Teaching you how to improve your home care routine is one of the dental hygienists most important duties.

The dental hygienist will also examine your mouth for symptoms of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions. Lastly, they will update your medical history to see if there have been any significant changes in your oral health.

Fluoride treatments

Did you know fluoride is a mineral that assists in rebuilding tooth enamel and reversing early signs of tooth decay? Next time you head to your dentist, if covered by your insurance plan, ask them for a professional fluoride treatment. This quick and straightforward treatment can help you prevent cavities.

During your visit, your hygienist will either swab or brush the fluoride on your teeth. In some cases, they might just place a tray in your mouth for a few minutes. After that, you will need to avoid eating or drinking for typically at least 30 minutes so your teeth can absorb the fluoride and help repair microscopic areas of decay. Dentists typically recommend treatments every six to 12 months. How often you receive them ultimately depends on the state of your oral health.

Regular fluoride treatments can be beneficial for everyone regardless of having fluoridated water or not. These topical applications help deliver the decay-fighting properties of fluoride directly to the teeth where it can do the most good.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. It helps harden the enamel coating of teeth and makes them resistant to decay. It is most effective when the teeth first erupt into the mouth but adults, especially those who are cavity-prone, can benefit from fluoride treatments.2

Oral exams

Regular examinations by dentist are an important step in preventing dental diseases. During routine examinations, dentists can detect small cavities that have not yet damaged the enamel and that can be repair, sometimes by simply applying a fluoride gel or varnish. Dentists and dental hygienist can help diagnose early stages of gum disease when it can still be reversed with a simple cleaning and better home care cleaning routines.

Detecting early signs of oral cancer is another important preventive service typically provided by dentists. If a dentist sees a suspicious area early in its development, they can perform a minimally invasive treatment to restore the area to normal health. If left undiagnosed and untreated, oral cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease.3 

Preventing dental disease begins with good dental hygiene and having regular examinations. These can allow dentists to catch dental diseases at their onset before they advance to later stages that are expensive and painful to treat.

Sealants

Dental sealants are a thin, protective coating that sticks to the chewing surface of your back teeth.

Because it is typically harder to reach your back molars when you are brushing and flossing, sealants act as a safety net to keep those teeth clean. The sealant works by helping keep leftover food particles out and stopping bacteria and acid from settling on your teeth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), sealants help protect against 80% of cavities for two years and continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to four years.4

Sealants can be applied to children’s teeth as soon as they get their first molars, which will help them get off to a cavity-free start.

Typically sealants do not require any type of anesthetics or drilling. After cleaning any plaque or debris from the teeth, they are thoroughly dried, and the liquid sealant material is painted on with a small swab or brush. Shining a special light on the material causes the sealant to quickly harden.

X-rays

Although X-rays can help diagnose problems, they are also extremely helpful in preventing certain dental issues.
In dentistry, intraoral X-rays are the most often used, and they can help provide a high level of detail of the tooth, bone, and supporting tissues of the mouth. This type of X-ray helps dentists to:

  • See the status of developing teeth
  • Determine if you have periodontal disease
  • Find cavities
  • Check the health of the bony area around the tooth
  • Look at your tooth roots

In addition to this type of X-rays, there are also different types used in dentistry. The type of X-ray your dentist recommends is based on your individual oral needs. Consider the following types of X-rays:

  • Periapical: This will provide a view of the entire tooth. This includes areas from the crown to the bone that helps to support the tooth.
  • Bitewing: Here, you will be able to see both the lower and upper posterior teeth. It will show your dentist how these teeth touch one another. Bite-wing X-rays also help to determine if decay is present between back teeth.
  • Panoramic: This X-ray shows a view of the teeth, jaws, nasal area, sinuses, and the joints of the jaw. It has typically done when a patient needs orthodontic treatment or implant placement.
  • Occlusal: If your dentist needs a clear view of the floor of the mouth to show the bite of the upper or lower jaw, they will recommend this type of X-ray. This kind of X-ray highlights children's tooth development to show baby and adult teeth.

The frequency of taking X-rays and the number of films needed vary from patient to patient. Often people may need X-rays to show the areas between the teeth on a regular basis; those with a high rate of decay might need them more frequently.

The basics of preventive dental care and you

A lot of preventive dental care starts and ends with you. This means you must do your part in maintaining good and consistent practices for oral health. In addition to utilizing preventative care services covered by your insurance provider, you should also follow these everyday habits to help ensure your teeth and gums are receiving adequate dental care at your hands:

Brushing

If you want to reduce plaque and keep your teeth strong, you should brush at least two or three times per day. This removes sticky food particles from meals.

It is typically recommended to brush twice each day—one time in the morning and then again before you go to bed at night. Also, be sure to brush evenly and make sure to get all the crevices of your teeth, using a good toothpaste with fluoride.

It is also important to replace your toothbrush regularly. Choose a brush with soft bristles. Hard and even medium bristles can damage the enamel and gums when used daily.

A soft-bristled toothbrush helps remove plaque, food debris, and bacteria from the teeth and gums typically without causing abrasion to the enamel. You can use them directly on the gums to keep the tissue tough and resistant to infection.

Flossing

Your next tool for preventing dental disease is floss. To understand the importance of flossing, think of your teeth as a row of boxes sitting on the floor with the sides touching the boxes on either side. If you want to wash the boxes, you can do an excellent job on the tops, fronts, and backs of each box. But you cannot easily clean the left and right sides because those are butting up against the others.

Dental floss helps clean those left and right sides of your teeth that are abutting the teeth on either side. These are areas your toothbrush typically cannot reach.

If you have problems using dental floss, there are many devices available that can assist. Products like floss handles, floss picks, interdental brushes, water irrigators, and rubber-tipped stimulators all can help clean between the teeth and under the gums. 

Fluoride

Just as the in-office fluoride treatments available at your dental office help to strengthen the enamel of your teeth, fluoride products that you can use at home can also protect your teeth from decay.

Fluoridated toothpaste has been a standard product for decades. Most commercially produced toothpaste has the recommended level of fluoride, and when used daily, helps to harden the enamel to make it more resistant to acids and sugars that cause cavities.

Other products are also available from most pharmacies and grocery stores. You can purchase mouthwash and gels without a prescription for home use. Follow directions carefully. Although these products have a much lower level of fluoride in them than is found in ones sold only to dental offices, they still typically have a high concentration of the mineral and can be helpful for both children and adults.

Maintain a diet that benefits your oral health

What you eat and drink daily has a tremendous effect on your teeth and gums. Eating a diet high in sugar and acidic foods like sodas and citrus fruits can typically harm your teeth.

Benefits of preventive dental care

Some of the most common benefits of preventive dental care include:

  • Help lowering your risk of developing gum disease, tooth decay, and other dental issues that could affect other aspects of health 
  • Helping detect dental problems early that could minimize the cost and degree of treatment
  • Helping promote good oral health habits in individuals and their families
  • Helping reduce dental issues related to chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, certain cancers, osteoporosis, and those recovering from eating disorders. Many people forget that some medical conditions that may seem unrelated can affect dental health as well

By maintaining good brushing and flossing habits and a balanced diet, you can help your teeth continue to stay strong and combat any ailments that may come our way. Preventive dental care is a job split between you and your dentist, so it is important to visit with your dentist for routine check-ups.

Most dental insurance plans cover preventive dental services so that you have little or no out-of-pocket costs. Many dental diseases are typically preventable with good home care and regular checkups. Protect you and your family from expensive dental bills by seeking regular preventive care and practicing preventive dental care at home.

 

This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.
 

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Sources:

1. https://www.nadp.org/Dental_Benefits_Basics/Dental_BB_2.aspx, 2016
2. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/fluoride, accessed September 2020
3. https://oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/, accessed September 2020
4. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/dental_sealant_program/index.htm, 2019

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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