If you’ve had a toothache before, you probably already know how hard it can be to focus on anything but that pain in your mouth. Maybe that’s why in 2016, a full 21 percent of American adult respondents to a Delta Dental survey reported missing at least one day of work due to oral health problems. But believe it or not, that number is an improvement from previous years. Here’s what those results really mean, and why dentists think it’s changing.
"If you look at the numbers from 2016, they do seem high, but not as high as they were in 2015," says Dr. Stephen Hill, a dentist in Allen, Texas. "According to the 2015 Delta Dental survey, 28 percent of adults reported missing work due to oral health issues, so last year that number actually went down by seven percent."
So, what could be behind this decrease in numbers? Were teeth healthier in 2016, or are more people simply choosing to skip the dental chair and ignore the pain?
"I think the data is showing people are taking better care of their teeth, not the opposite," explains Hill. "Anyone who has ever had a painful tooth or gum problem can attest that dental pain is not the kind of pain you simply ignore. Most of the time dental problems don’t heal themselves, so ignoring this kind of pain will only make it worse."
That’s great news for adults, but what about children? After all, a recent Delta Dental survey found that 18 percent of children missed at least a half-day of school for dental problems, and 31 percent missed an entire day or more for oral health problems.
"The good news is that we’re getting better about caring for our own teeth, but we still need some improvement on how to care for our kids’ teeth," says Hill. "Thankfully it seems like maybe parents are starting to get the message. Hopefully that applies to their children’s teeth as well."
For parents struggling to get their kids to take better care of their teeth, Hill offers this advice.
"Let them see you taking care of your teeth," Hill says. "Show them how you brush and how you floss. Bring them with you to your dentist appointments. Kids want to emulate their parents and make them proud. When they see you getting praise for taking care of your teeth, they’ll want to take care of theirs, too."