By Steve Pollock
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently called attention to America’s dental crisis during a panel discussion and Q&A on Capitol Hill. "This is an issue that is of huge consequence but doesn't get the kind of attention that it deserves,” Senator Sanders commented, as reported by WCAX.
The recent coverage of America’s oral health crisis is rewarding to witness, since the topic typically gets little attention in the media. In addition to Senator Sanders’ report, a New York Times article reported on the rise of preschoolers requiring surgical dental work to remove extensive tooth decay and the startling prevalence of dental disease among youth in our country.
Senator Sanders’ report underscores the fact that more than ten years after the U.S. Surgeon General called dental disease a “silent epidemic” not nearly enough has been done to address the oral health crisis in America today.
The key findings from Senator Sanders’ report include:
- More than 47 million people live in places where it is difficult to access dental care.
- About 17 million low-income children received no dental care in 2009.
- One forth of adults in the U.S. ages 65 and older have lost all of their teeth.
- Low-income adults are almost twice as likely as higher-income adults to have gone without a dental check up in the previous year.
- Bad dental health impacts overall health and increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and poor birth outcomes.
- There were over 830,000 visits to emergency rooms across the country for preventable dental conditions in 2009- a 16% increase since 2006.
- Almost 60% of children ages 5 to 17 have cavities- making tooth decay five times more common than asthma among children of this age.
- Nearly 9,500 new dental providers are needed to meet the country’s current oral health needs.
- There are more dentists retiring each year than there are dental school graduates to replace them.
Senator Sanders concludes with several recommendations, including placing an emphasis on prevention and education and integrating dental services into nontraditional settings such as schools.
At DentaQuest, we couldn’t agree more. Good preventive care and early diagnosis of dental disease are the keys to improving oral health.
In our dental benefits business, we are committed to partnering with participating dentists across the country to help them target higher-risk patients in their practices and ensure they get the preventive care they need to better manage dental disease. My colleagues at the DentaQuest Institute are doing amazing work with dental programs in safety net health centers, private dental offices and hospital-based clinics across the country developing effective ways to prevent and manage oral disease. That includes effective new care protocols that are helping preschoolers with serious cavities stay out of the operating room! Check out this piece about the work the DentaQuest Institute supported at St. Josephs’ in Providence, Rhode Island on treatment of early childhood tooth decay.
Tooth decay is nearly 100% preventable with education, preventive services and access to care. How many diseases can you say that about? Prevention is the key to stopping this chronic and costly disease. So grab a tooth brush, remember to floss, see your oral health professional regularly, and enjoy the many benefits of good oral health.