McALLEN, Texas – Perla Mendoza, 37, has had her teeth cleaned by a dentist just three times in her life because she doesn’t have insurance.
But she is good about following up on the dental care of her kids, who do have insurance, she said.
Darrel Jacks, 56, has not had his teeth cleaned by a dentist in three years.
“I am kind of apprehensive with dentists and no insurance,” Jacks said.
Rebekah Garza, 27, does not remember when her last cleaning was, but “it’s been a while,” she said.
Garza doesn’t have insurance, either.
All three had a cleaning recently for $20 by a student in the dental hygienist program at Texas State Technical College.
The president of the Rio Grande Valley Dental Hygienist Society, Gladys Arjona, said many locals pass on their teeth cleanings for various reasons – and the consequences are not good.
“You wait until you are hurting, that you have a toothache,” Arjona said of contacting a doctor.
Arjona attributes the problem to the lack of awareness about oral health.
Losing a tooth won’t put your life in jeopardy like an infection or gum disease.
It’s important to get cleanings twice a year and an X-ray once a year because the daily brushing and flossing do not reach between the teeth and the pockets between the edge of your gums and underneath.
“In that area, no one can go in with a toothbrush to remove plaque down there,” Arjona explained.
The saliva and plaque calcify and form rings underneath the gums. The accumulation of bacteria underneath the gums is what causes gum disease.
“Our body is going to respond like any other infection in your system. The body is going to try to fight it. You have inflammation, extra blood in that part of your body, it doesn’t hurt. The problem is the gum starts detaching, (and) it gets to the point that we have in our area people in their 30s losing teeth from gum disease. That’s how bad it is,” Arjona said.
As an instructor at the Dental Hygiene Program at TSTC in Harlingen, Arjona sees a lot of disease. But she said for many, the disease is a case of out of sight, out of mind.
“This infection that is going on in your mouth is like if you had an ulcer the size of your hand, or in your leg, would you tend to it? You would,” Arjona said. “We don’t tend to it in our mouth because we close our mouth, and we don’t know that is happening.”
The problem with an infection is that it can begin affecting your overall health because it weakens your system.
“That blood that is circulating through that wound, it’s circulating to your heart, to your brain and everything else,” Arjona said.
“You may feel not as energetic. (You may feel) lethargic, and this is really hard on your heart. It actually has been linked to heart problems,” Arjona said.
It is never too early to start going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned, said J. Michael Adame, member of the Local Academy of General Dentistry. As soon as a baby gets his first tooth, it is time to start. At home, the child should brush every day and floss, too.
The best way to teach children is by example, Adame said.
“If it’s a habit that’s instilled early, it will really benefit (you) later in life when the mouth changes and things like plaque are harder to keep off your teeth, because root surfaces may become exposed,” said Adame who also is a member of the Rio Grande Valley American Dental Association.
“An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure,” Adame said. “And it really holds true … for dental health.”
Adame said one of the worst cases he has seen in his 25 years of practice was having to extract all the teeth of a 25-year-old because of rampant decay and then giving him dentures.
“Everyone knew that he drank a lot of soda every day,” Adame said.