Reasons you shouldn't lie to your dentist

Reasons you shouldn't lie to your dentist

Did you ever think that little white lie you told your dentist — or the embarrassing information you not-so-innocently left off the medical history questionnaire — won’t come back to bite you? Think again.

A good dentist can tell within minutes of poking and prodding inside your mouth if you’re doing something to harm your teeth, gums and overall health, says Dr. Ruchi Sahota, a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association.

“I’m not Santa Claus, but I can tell if you have been brushing,” says Sahota, who also practices in Fremont, California.

Unlike some medical conditions that may take months or years to yield symptoms, some dental problems can develop quickly if you neglect recommended oral hygiene or certain medical conditions, says Dr. Kent Wagner, a highly rated dentist with Wagner Dental in Las Vegas. That’s why dentists ask questions about ailments and habits you take for granted.

Even though most of their patients say they brush twice a day or floss regularly, Wagner and Sahota say many don’t brush as long as they think they do, or they miss areas of their mouth. That can lead to cavities before the patient feels them, so patients have to be educated and taught how to brush better. “You have to brush at least 2 minutes,” Wagner says.

Sahota and Wagner say many patients don’t intend to deceive their dentist. Some are nervous about going to the dentist and fear hearing bad news. Some patients don’t recognize the connection between their medical history and their oral health. Others don’t realize how their habits affect their mouth.

For example, Wagner says smoking can lead to gum disease that requires more extensive or frequent cleanings to treat because smoking dries out your gum tissue. “Every now and then, a patient will tell me they are not smoking, but I can see how dry, puffy and inflamed their gums are,” he says.

Dentists also can tell if a patient has an eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa, because frequent vomiting causes tooth erosion and tooth loss, Wagner says.

While that health issue is harder to broach with patients than others are, Wagner and Sahota say your dentist should address them because they affect your overall health and the treatment he or she recommends.

Sahota recalled how a patient with a good oral history developed five cavities in six months because she was eating cough lozenges at bedtime. Although that damage was done, Sahota says she didn’t find any more cavities after the patient followed her advice and gave up the bedtime habit.

Even if your dentist isn’t qualified to treat certain conditions, he or she may be the first to recognize a medical condition.

Wagner says he suspected a patient had diabetes when he noticed a sudden increase in bone loss and significant changes in the gums around her teeth indicating gum disease. “The patient saw her physician and, sure enough, the patient had developed Type 2 diabetes,” Wagner says. “She was treated with medication for diabetes and put on a more frequent cleaning schedule and her oral health has improved dramatically.”

Sahota says if you’re hesitant about sharing important information with your dentist, find one with whom you’re more comfortable. The ADA requires dentists to abide by a code of ethics to ensure public trust. “It eases the anxiety and nervousness and opens you up to going to visiting the dentist regularly,” she says.


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