With the economy slow to recover, Americans continue to cut costs and conserve money. The Pennsylvania Dental Association reminds the public that good oral health is vital to overall health and urges people of all ages to not neglect their oral health care.

It is understandable that families are trying to be frugal with their finances during these tough times. While dental care may seem like an easy expense to cut, postponing regular dental checkups could result in a serious oral health problem and a more expensive treatment plan in the long run.

“When a patient is not seen at a regular three-month, four-month, or six-month intervals, problems are left to progress, which leads to more expensive treatments such as crowns, root canals, or periodontal surgeries,” said Dr. Tamara S. Brady, a PDA member dentist in Exton. “Not only are these procedures more expensive, they also may not be covered by a patient’s dental insurance.”

PDA has no statistics on whether more Pennsylvanians are avoiding dental checkups because of the economy. However, there is anecdotal evidence. Gallup-Healthways surveyed 177,000 Americans from January through June 2011. The survey showed that 35 percent, or more than one-third, of Americans did not visit a dentist in the last 12 months during this time period. Pennsylvania was close to the national average at 33 percent.

“It is important to not skip your routine dental checkup appointments because it is not always apparent to a person when there is a dental problem that should be addressed,” said Dr. Brady. “Many patients build up significant plaque and tartar in between dental hygiene exams and these materials need to be removed professionally at your routine recall appointment. Also, dental decay can begin to develop and will need to be detected by a dentist via a dental exam and X-rays.”

Once a tooth begins to decay, it will never heal on its own. It is better to catch the decay early before it progresses into a larger lesion. Dr. Brady said, “In cases of extreme decay, a person may have to have the affected tooth extracted or removed.”

By avoiding the dentist to save money, patients are putting their overall health in jeopardy, too. Dentists also check for more serious conditions, such as oral cancer and jaw diseases. They are trained to look for many systemic diseases simply through your regular oral exam. Lack of dental treatment can lead to or exacerbate medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Studies show that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body. Periodontal (gum) disease is linked to coronary artery disease, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, pre-term births, and low-birth weight babies. In addition, oral health problems can negatively affect your ability to speak, chew, and swallow properly, which can have an adverse impact on your ability to consume the nutrition your body needs to remain healthy.