Say cheese! Or perhaps not.

Maybe you’re embarrassed by your smile because your teeth don’t look very good.

And maybe that’s because you haven’t seen a dentist in a long time because money has been tight.

Well, now that minor little ache on the upper right side of your mouth hasn’t gone away by itself and the whole side of your jaw is painful and swollen.

If you fit this description, you’re in good company. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say you’re in bad company. At any rate, you’re not alone.

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People Are Avoiding the Dentist’s Chair

Studies show that 40 percent of Americans skip dental care and 80 percent will feel something wrong in their mouths and ignore it.

In fact, an estimated 150 million American adults avoided a dental visit altogether last year.

A Federal Reserve survey found a quarter of respondents delayed getting dental care for financial reasons.

Another recent survey commissioned by Aspen Dental found that nearly two in five American adults say they either delay dental care or have limited dental work done due to their financial situation. That number that has increased by nearly 8 percent in the past two years.  

About 80 percent are even aware that postponing or delaying routine visits will cost them more money in the long run.

“The longer you wait, the more costly it becomes,” said Jere Gillan, an Orlando, Florida-based dentist who is part of Aspen Dental, a nationwide group with patients in 31 states.

Dentists have heard all sorts of excuses, Gillan said, including “I would rather give birth without an epidural than go to the dentist.” And nearly one in five Americans say they would fix problems with their car ahead of taking care of their teeth.

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Campaign to Help Veterans

Now dentists are hoping a full-on media campaign about the importance of dental health will stir people to get off the couch and into the dentist’s chair.

To that end, more than 300 Aspen Dental practices will offer a day of free care to military veterans. On June 27, thousands of veterans will receive free dental care at what is expected to be the largest single-day oral health initiative for veterans.

It’s part of the Healthy Mouth Movement, a community-giving initiative launched by the company in 2014 to deliver free dental care and oral health education to people in need.

The Healthy Mouth Movement campaign is a partnership with Got Your 6, a veterans service organization. (“Got your 6” is military slang for “I’ve got your back.”)

“There is a serious and urgent need to improve access to oral healthcare across the United States and this holds true for our nation’s veterans,” said Schatzie Vincent, D.M.D., director of clinical support and community giving at Aspen Dental Management Inc.

Typically, a veteran must have a service-connected dental condition or disability, be a former prisoner of war, or have service-connected disabilities that have been classified as completely disabling to be eligible for dental benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But recent legislation provides vets and their families the option to purchase dental insurance through major carriers at a discounted rate.

Veterans interested in the free help should call 1-844-AspenHMM to find a participating practice in their community and schedule an appointment for June 27. Information is also available at the Healthy Mouth Movement website.

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‘No Shame Zone’ for New Patients

Gillan has another piece of advice for new patients, whether veterans or otherwise.

“At Aspen Dental, we have a no-shame zone,” he said. “We know that if they make that first step in the door, that’s the biggest part.”

New patients are often embarrassed, he said. But no one in the office will criticize or mock them.

“Usually, by the end of a new patient exam, they feel comfortable,” he noted.

He stressed that the outreach to reluctant patients is part of a nationwide effort and not limited to his practice.

“We encourage people to think about their mouths and not use the emergency room instead of going to the dentist,” he said.