Open Wide

Lillian Landrigan perfroms emergency treatment on driver Anthony Sweetser, who finally sought dental care after driving 5,700 miles with a toothache.

Long haul truckers sacrifice a lot. Children’s birthdays. Time with families. For some, their health is sacrificed by sitting behind the wheel 11 hours a day. But truckers can do things to make sure their dental care doesn’t deteriorate.

Matt Messina, a dentist in Cleveland, says the most important thing truckers can do to their dental health is to brush their teeth at every stop – be it a truck stop or a loading stop.

He also says that sugarless foods are healthier than the ordinary variety.

“When driving, chew sugarless gum,” Messina says. “Sugar acts as an acid on teeth and will decay them.”

Messina also recommends avoiding sticky or sugary foods. Apples are bad for the teeth because they are sweet and stick to the teeth.

“Eat crunchy snacks like granola,” Messina says. “M&Ms are okay.”

Messina also encourages truckers to give up chewing tobacco because it wears away the teeth, stains them brown and increases the likelihood of gum disease and mouth cancer.

Lillian Landrigan, a dentist in West Memphis, Ark., blames truckers’ diets, not their tooth-care habits, for their poor dental hygiene.

“Diet is more significant than someone’s brushing habits,” Landrigan says. “Truckers have lots of sugar on their teeth. They go down the road sipping a 48-ounce Mountain Dew. Saliva washes sugar out of the mouth but not if you’re sipping that drink every two minutes.”

Landrigan also cites coffee as another poor dental hygiene culprit. “Caffeine cuts down on saliva, and that contributes to cavities because it doesn’t wash out the mouth. That is the cause of dental disease, not what kind of toothbrush you use.”

Landigan knows it is difficult for over-the-road drivers to get to a dental office. That is why, in 2003, she opened a dental practice at the Petro Truck Stop in West Memphis, Ark., at the junction of I-40 and I-55. She offers general dentistry to anyone who walks in. Go to this site for more information.

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“I view truckers as a mobile community,” Landrigan says. That is why she positioned her practice at an interstate junction. “There are so many trucking facilities in the area, and truckers come through here so often it is almost like a natural stop for them.”

The office’s course has been a rocky one. Eight weeks after she opened the office, the U.S. Army Reserve called Landrigan to Iraq. For six months she provided dental care to coalition forces in Mosul, Iraq, but now she is back and ready to help out tooth-sore truckers.

She recommends that truckers call in when they are in the area to give the healthcare worker time to prepare for their visit, but she gladly takes walk-ins. “We are very accessible. Truckers can park in the McDonald’s across the street or at the Petro, and many companies have terminals within 6 miles of here,” Landrigan says.

“Often we see someone within 10 minutes of them walking in, 15 if we have to process their insurance,” Landrigan says. “We offer an exam and X-rays for $30.”

Though her office is open from Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., she says weekend appointments can be made, and she often has to stay late. “Our biggest night is Friday night. Whenever I can, I’ll stay late. Sometimes we don’t get out of here until 8 p.m.,” she says.

Landrigan does not limit her treatment to physical pain. She wants to help drivers work through the mental pain derived from their dental phobias. “Many people are embarrassed to come into a dentist’s office if they haven’t been in a while because they think they have done something wrong,” Landrigan says. Landrigan likened that to thinking a medical doctor would scold a patient for coming in with the flu. Landrigan tries to make the truckers feel more in control of the situation. “I tell truckers to pretend they are their truck, and I’m just a roadside mechanic,” Landrigan says.

Landrigan isn’t the only dentist to open an office in a truck stop. The Iowa 80 Truckstop, located off Exit 284 on I-80 near Walcott, Iowa, has a dentist office on its second floor. Interstate Dental, run by dentist Thomas Roehmer, opens at 9 a.m. and closes between 2 and 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Roehmer has been at that location since 1993. “We are strictly walk-in,” Roehmer says. A tooth extraction is $100, but Roehmer doesn’t keep a set price for dental checkups, because he performs them so rarely. “I provide all types of dental services but 95 percent of what I do is emergency care – [tooth] extractions and release of dental pain.”

Roehmer offers free consultations but charges $20 for an X-ray. “With the $50 office visit, the total is $70,” Roehmer says.

Roehmer also likes to have drivers call in before stopping at the office. His cell phone – (563) 529-4066 – is always ready for a trucker to call. “I enjoy the kind of treatment I provide here,” Roehmer says. “The clientele are very receptive and appreciative. I can be here between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.”

Roehmer doesn’t take insurance – he is paid on-site by cash or credit card – but does help drivers contact their insurance companies so they can be refunded for the medical costs.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association offers two dental insurance options, the Value Plan and the Premier Plan. The Value Plan covers all preventive services – oral exams, cleanings, bitewing X-rays – and 80 percent of extraction, fillings and all other X-rays. The Premier Plan covers all that, plus 50 percent of complex dental surgeries – removal of impacted teeth, root canals and dentures – and inlays, crowns and bridges. Both plans allow you to pick the dentist of your choice. For more information go to this site.

The American Independent Trucker’s Association has three plans. Type I covers 100 percent of all preventive services. Type II covers – after a six-month waiting period – 80 percent of basic services. Plan Type IIIA, after a yearlong waiting period, covers half of all major service – oral surgery, dental repairs and replacement of crowns and bridges. Plan Type IIIB takes effect after a two-year waiting period and pays half of all inlays, overlays, crowns, dentures and bridges. AITA’s website has more information.

Information contributed by Lillian Landrigan
Keeping sugar out of the mouth is the best way to prevent a dental emergency. Bacteria – which attacks teeth and gums – feeds on sugar. Frequent brushing doesn’t prevent mouth infections if there is long-term exposure to sugar. The more time the sugar is in the mouth, the more damage it will do. Sipping soda is worse than drinking it in one swallow.

Carbohydrates – like rice and potato chips – convert to sugar and remain on teeth long after you swallow. Fruits and nuts also remain in the mouth, feeding the bacteria that causes tooth and gum infections. Sugarless foods and gums still support bacterial growth. Cut down on snacks, eat healthy meals and brush and floss twice a day.

Tooth pain that is spontaneous or that lingers more than 15 seconds after drinking and eating may mean the nerve inside the tooth or the bone around the tooth is infected. Clean the area around the sore tooth gently by brushing, flossing and rinsing with warm salt water. Instead of applying aspirin to the pained area, hold an ice pack to the face or chin to reduce swelling and to slow infection. Pain relievers may be used, but avoid aspirin since it increases bleeding. See a dentist as soon as possible.

Fillings can fall out because of hidden decay. Pain when you eat or drink may mean you have a hole in your tooth. Get treatment before the decay reaches the nerve. Until you can get in to have it treated, fill the void with something that is soft and moldable, like orthodontic wax, which is available in most drug store dental sections.

If a chipped tooth causes persistent severe pain, get to a dentist. The nerve may be damaged. If there is no pain, replace the lost portion of the tooth at your earlier convenience.

Use floss to extract something stuck between teeth. Rinse with warm salt water. Toothpicks can cut the gums and cause more discomfort.

Fever blisters, also called cold sores, usually occur on the upper or lower lip. They are contagious and when the blister breaks, other people can be infected by direct and indirect contact. Keep the area covered with an ointment until it’s healed. Canker sores usually form in times of stress under the tongue or between the gums and cheek. They heal in a week.

For cuts, apply firm, but gentle, pressure with a clean gauze or cloth. If bleeding does not stop or slow after 15 minutes, seek professional medical help.