Dr. Greene and I have been practicing together for a long time now. Long enough that, like the current Farmer’s Insurance television ads, we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.
The Life Cycle of a Dental Patient
A common theme we have observed in our patients, as they and we have aged, goes something like this:
- They get through childhood and adolescence with perhaps just a few fillings and usually a round of braces. A trip to the oral surgeon to get those pesky wisdom teeth out, then hopefully they survive college relatively unscathed.
- They then head out into the workplace. They are often now in an entry-level job with few benefits, and no longer on their parent’s dental insurance. They also no longer have motherly reminders to go see the dentist, see the doctor, eat well, get enough sleep, etc, etc. The years fly by until at some point priorities suddenly change-usually by marriage or by toothache.
- The 30’s and early 40’s are often filled with correcting those years of lapse in judgement. That corrective treatment often involves fairly extensive dental treatment, including crowns, root canal treatment, sometimes tooth replacements, and several fillings of one sort or another. If they have any luck, that subsides in time for their own round of kids to head toward their college years.
- Ah, time flies by, their kids graduate and mostly move out, and retirement years have now come. They have carefully filled out those online retirement calculators so they know what to save and budget for in their now golden years. All is great in this time of endless sand and sun spent spoiling the new grandkids.
- One day though, one of those crowns falls off, and a couple months later, a toothache develops in another. An overdue visit to the dentist ends up with the news that a lot of the old dental work is now failing and needs to be redone. Due to changes in wear, erosion from dietary and reflux acid, loss of bone from gum disease, new developments in dental materials and technology, and 40 years of inflation, what was $8,000 when you were 30 and had dental insurance is now $30,000 and out-of-pocket. The online retirement calculator did not have a checkbox for that. Ugh.
No Dental Treatment Will Last Forever
The above scenario is more common than you might think, and is occurring more often as us baby-boomers are entering retirement age. What we as a profession should be doing a better job at emphasizing and alerting patients about is the fact that no dental treatment, none, will last forever. With enough time it all will eventually need to be redone!
Certainly some of that can be deferred by both good professional dental care and by good patient dental hygiene and dietary habits. But even with the best of that care and the best of those habits, the thousands of bites and drinks and clenches in a hostile acidic environment will inevitably take its toll. A very rough benchmark is that 20 years is a good estimate for the longevity of a restoration, and certainly by 30 years a very high percentage of restorations will have failed. I start looking very closely and with squinted suspicious eyes at any restoration, be it a crown, bridge, or filling, once it approaches age 20 and beyond. From a practitioner standpoint, it is sometimes a difficult balancing act to try to not replace dental work prematurely, versus waiting too long and later finding extensive decay hidden that x-rays could not reveal.
Include Dental Treatment as Part of Your Financial Plan
The main message to relay is that for anyone that has had a fair amount of dental treatment, I would strongly recommend that you plan for and budget for its eventual replacement. That commonly will be within 25 years of its initial placement, and the costs involved will reflect a combination of inflation, new technology and material development, your new treatment needs, and whether or not you have any insurance plan at that time to help with coverage.
In the mean time I would skip the sugary drinks and snacks, brush and floss, and see your dentist and hygienist regularly. It will be the best investment you can make!