I had a kind of upsetting realization the other day: I have no idea when I last went to the dentist. I really mean that: I can’t remember any visits to the dentist since sometime in middle school, when I got my braces off (and, actually, that’s an orthodontist, right?). I’m sure I went at some point, but the memory is lost to time now, and it’s a sure sign that whenever it was, it was a really long time ago!

I’ve been “adulting” better and better with each passing year, and I’ve decided that, for my next trick, I will make my good dental habits reappear. So I have questions: is dental work covered by health insurance? How often should I go to the dentist? Do I need to go to the orthodontist, too? Will I have to pay big bucks to go to either? Thanks in advance, experts!

Good dental care is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle – and one that is too often neglected. Americans don’t go to the dentist quite as often as they should, and those who skip their trips may end up saddled with serious problems later in life. You don’t want to end up paying high prices for serious dental work or ending up with dentures relatively early in life, but those are the real consequences of avoiding the dentist. Dental problems don’t get better on their own, and dentists tell us that good dental habits, regular cleanings at the dentist’s office, and swift solutions for smaller dental problems are the keys to avoiding larger, more upsetting, and pricier dental problems down the line.

So what does this mean? Well, having good dental habits just means doing the things you know you should already be doing. Brush at least twice a day, and don’t be afraid to throw in an extra brushing after a meal. It’s not a bad idea to invest in an electric toothbrush: studies show that they help. And don’t forget to floss – yes, flossing really is as important as you fear. You can use floss picks if you find it easier, but move the pick so that the floss in it is taut against your teeth, or you won’t get the full effect like you would with string floss.

As for the part that takes place in the dentist’s office, you’ll want to visit at least once a year, dentists and orthodontists told us. The good news is that this isn’t hard to do: visit your dentist once, and you’ll almost certainly get reminders when it’s time to make another appointment (you can even do it on your way out the door after your first appointment!). Other than the cleanings, don’t worry too much about dentist-led care: your dentist will tell you if he or she thinks you need additional services. You’ll likely need some x-rays if it has really been years since your last visit, but as for things like orthodontic work, you can safely assume your dentist will take charge of determining what you need.

Unfortunately, most health insurance policies don’t cover dental care. However, dental insurance is sold on its own, and it’s also worth checking to see if you have any existing coverage through your school or your parents’ insurance.

So there you have it: care for your teeth daily, visit the dentist at least once a year, and invest in dental insurance if you don’t want to pay out of pocket. Don’t you wish adulting was always this easy?

“I wrote a song about dental floss, but did anyone’s teeth get cleaner?” – Frank Zappa