If you're among the estimated 14 million families with a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA), New Year's Eve has an added meaning—that's typically the deadline for using any current year funds. Since any remaining money in your FSA could go poof at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, you might be looking for a way to spend it. If so, consider a dental health boost for you and your family.
FSAs were created in the 1970s by the U.S. Government as a salary benefit that employers could offer employees. Instead of receiving all of their pay as taxable income, employees could designate a portion of it (currently up to $2,650) in a non-taxable account to use for certain medical and dental expenses. An FSA thus provides families a way to pay for uncovered healthcare costs while saving on their taxes.
But because most FSAs expire by the end of the year and then restart with a fresh balance in the new year, there's a natural concern that you will “use or lose” remaining money. People thus begin looking for eligible expenses like treatments, prescribed medications or eyeglasses. They can't, however, use them for items like over-the-counter medical products (though some pain relievers get a pass this year because of COVID-19), as well as most things cosmetic.
The same generally holds true for dental expenses—you won't be able to use FSA funds for procedures like teeth whitening or veneers. Toothbrushes and other routine oral care products are also ineligible, although you may be able to buy items like a water flosser if your dentist issues you a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN).
Still, there's a wide range of eligible dental items you could pay for with remaining FSA funds.
Prevention measures. Any procedures or treatments intended to prevent disease are typically FSA-eligible. These can include measures like regular dental cleanings, sealants or fluoride applications.
Disease treatment. FSAs cover procedures like fillings, extractions, gum surgery or root canals. This could include repairing damage from disease through dental bonding or crowns, which might also improve your smile.
Dental restorations. Missing teeth restorations like bridgework, dentures or dental implants are also covered. These may improve your appearance, but they primarily restore disrupted dental function.
Out-of-pocket expenses. Although you can't pay for dental insurance premiums, an FSA may be able to help in other ways. You can use FSA funds for co-pays or any remaining out-of-pocket expenses.
If you're not sure what dental expenses might be eligible for FSA funds, give our office a call and we can provide you guidance. If FSA funds can help, you'll be able to improve your dental health—and possibly your appearance—before you ring in 2021.
If you would like more information about managing your dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
Before implants, people often turned to a removable appliance to replace multiple missing teeth. Known as a removable partial denture (RPD), this appliance could restore both appearance and function at an affordable price.
But although implants may have diminished their use, RPDs haven't gone extinct. They're still a viable option for patients who can't afford implants or fixed bridgework, or who can't obtain implants due to the state of their dental health.
Although replacing only a few teeth rather than an entire arch, RPDs are similar in basic concept to full dentures. The prosthetic (artificial) teeth are anchored in a resin or plastic that's colored to resemble the gums, precisely placed to fit into the missing gaps. This assembly is further supported by a frame made of vitallium, a lightweight but strong metal alloy. The appliance fits upon the arch with the missing teeth, supported by vitallium clasps that grip adjacent natural teeth.
Each RPD must be custom designed for each patient to fit perfectly without excessive movement during chewing. Too much movement could warp the fit, reduce the RPD's durability or damage other teeth. To achieve this secure fit, dentists must take into account the number and location of missing teeth to be replaced, and then apply a specific construction pattern to balance the appliance.
There are RPDs that are meant to be used short-term, as with a teenager whose jaw isn't yet mature for dental implants. But the metal-framed RPDs we've described are designed for long-term use. There is, however, one primary downside: RPDs have a propensity to collect dental plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease that could further deteriorate your dental health.
To avoid this, you'll need to keep both the RPD and the rest of your teeth and gums as clean as possible with daily brushing and flossing, and appliance care. And like dentures, it's best to remove the RPD when you go to bed at night to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
To see if an RPD to replace your missing teeth is an option for you, visit us for a complete dental exam. From there, we can advise you further as to whether an RPD could affordably restore your missing teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on RPDs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Removable Partial Dentures.”
Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
The monarchs of the world experience the same health issues as their subjects—but they often tend to be hush-hush about it. Recently, though, the normally reticent Queen Elizabeth II let some young dental patients in on a lesser known fact about Her Majesty's teeth.
While touring a new dental hospital, the queen told some children being fitted for braces that she too “had wires” once upon a time. She also said, “I think it's worth it in the end.”
The queen isn't the only member of the House of Windsor to need help with a poor bite. Both Princes William and Harry have worn braces, as have other members of the royal family. A propensity for overbites, underbites and other malocclusions (poor bites) can indeed pass down through families, whether of noble or common lineage.
Fortunately, there are many ways to correct congenital malocclusions, depending on their type and severity. Here are 3 of them.
Braces and clear aligners. Braces are the tried and true way to straighten misaligned teeth, while the clear aligner method—removable plastic mouth trays—is the relative “new kid on the block.” Braces are indeed effective for a wide range of malocclusions, but their wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss, and they're not particularly attractive. Clear aligners solve both of these issues, though they may not handle more complex malocclusions as well as braces.
Palatal expanders. When the upper jaw develops too narrowly, a malocclusion may result from teeth crowding into too small a space. But before the upper jaw bones fuse together in late childhood, orthodontists can fit a device called a palatal expander inside the upper teeth, which exerts gentle outward pressure on the teeth. This encourages more bone growth in the center to widen the jaw and help prevent a difficult malocclusion from forming.
Specialized braces for impacted teeth. An impacted tooth, which remains partially or completely hidden in the gums, can impede dental health, function and appearance. But we may be able to coax some impacted teeth like the front canines into full eruption. This requires a special orthodontic technique in which a bracket is surgically attached to the impacted tooth's crown. A chain connected to the bracket is then looped over other orthodontic hardware to gradually pull the tooth down where it should be.
Although some techniques like palatal expanders are best undertaken in early dental development, people of any age and reasonably good health can have a problem bite corrected with other methods. If you are among those who benefit from orthodontics, you'll have something in common with the Sovereign of the British Isles: a healthy, attractive and straighter smile.
“Don’t panic” is your first priority when faced with a sudden mouth injury. Of course, that may be easier said than done when you or a family member has just experienced a chipped, fractured or even dislodged tooth.
It helps, therefore, to have some idea beforehand on what to do and, especially, when to do it. You should think in terms of immediate, urgent and less urgent injuries: a tooth completely knocked out of its socket requires immediate action — within 5 minutes of the injury; a tooth that’s moved out of its normal position but still in the socket is an urgent matter that needs professional attention within 6 hours; and a chipped tooth is less urgent, but still needs to be seen by a dentist within 12 hours.
As you may have gathered, the most important thing you can do when a dental injury occurs is to contact our office as soon as possible. If for some reason you can’t, you should visit the nearest emergency center.
There are also some actions you should take for a knocked-out permanent tooth because there’s a chance it can be replanted in the socket if you act within 5 minutes of the injury. First, rinse the tooth with cold, clean water (bottled or tap) if it’s dirty. Be sure to handle it gently, avoiding touching the root. Grasping the crown-end with your thumb and index finger, place the tooth into the empty socket and push it firmly into place. Apply light but firm pressure with your hand or a wad of wet tissue to make sure it doesn’t come out. Don’t worry about correct alignment — we can adjust that later during examination.
If the tooth is chipped or broken, try to locate the broken pieces — it may be possible to re-bond them to the tooth. You should store them in a container with milk or the injured person’s saliva (the same can be done for a knocked out tooth if reinserting it isn’t practical). The broken pieces should then be transported with the injured person to emergency treatment.
Taking these actions may not ultimately save a traumatized tooth, but they will certainly raise its chances for survival.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
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