Monday, March 26, 2012

Senator Bernie Sanders' Brings Oral Health to Capitol Hill

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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

More Prevention, Less Emergency

By Dr. Doyle Williams

I’ve been reading way too many articles about the increasing use of the hospital emergency room (ER) for treating dental problems. Hospitals are saying that this has become a very frequent occurrence. It saddens me to know people are in such mouth pain that they need ER intervention. It is troubling to me as a dentist because when an individual visits the hospital with a dental emergency, the pain will be addressed, but the “root” cause of the problem is often not treated. The most common treatment is a prescription for pain and another for infection; both are just temporary fixes. This leaves the individual vulnerable to a recurrence of the same problem in a few weeks or perhaps more severe problems, which ultimately become more costly and painful to treat. And in some cases, they can be life threatening.
The number of ER visits across the U.S. increased by 16 percent from 2006 to 2009. Did you know that between 1.3 percent and 2.7 percent of all ER visits that don't result in a hospital admission are dental emergencies? In many cases, the people using the emergency room have had difficulty getting regular preventive care from dentists and other types of providers says The Pew Research Center in its report, A Costly Destination. Unfortunately, the patients who find themselves in the ER are paying more than they would have at a dentist, and not solving their underlying oral health problem.

Consider that a single ER visit for toothache pain can cost Medicaid about $236, while extracting an infected tooth in a dentist’soffice or placing a filling would cost about $107. Recognizing this trend, the National Institutes of Health is supporting a new two-year study of emergency room dental care.

We need to take a closer look at where money is spent on dental care. Paying for prevention-focused dental care is a more effective wayto keep costs down. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth apound of cure.”

DentaQuest is committed to prevention in oral healthcare. Click here to learn more

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oral Cancer and HPV

By Dr. Doyle Williams

Oral Cancer will inflict 37,000 people this year. It will cause 8,000 deaths. It is a silent killer that takes the life of one person every hour.

Oral cancer can often be detected with a simple screening, and is often easily treatable in its early stages. But all too often it goes unnoticed until it’s too late.

Warning signs of oral cancer include:

  • A red or white patch in your mouth or a sore that hasn’t healed within 14 days.
  • Sore throat or ear pain caused by inflammation in the back of the throat. If the pain lingers after two weeks, consult with your physician.
  • A lump in your neck, which may signify the cancer is spreading out from its original site.
  • Alteration in the quality of your voice or hoarseness for no apparent reason that hasn’t disappeared after about a week.

  • Today, many cases of oral cancer are being caused by Human Papilloma Virus, commonly known as HPV, an STD that nearly 80 percent of Americans will be infected with at least once in their lifetime.

    There are more than 120 strands of HPV, not all of which are cancerous. The virus can be passed through sexual activity, and in most cases has no side-effects and is gone within a year. But in rare cases, HPV can turn into oral cancer, making it all the more important to be screened regularly for both HPV and oral cancer.

    So don’t forget to insist on an oral cancer screening with your dentist at least once a year, even if you have no known risk factors like tobacco and alcohol.

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    A Family Guide to Healthy Smiles

    By Dr. Doyle Williams

    A comprehensive new guidebook is making it easier for parents to care for their children’s oral health. “Healthy Smiles,” presented by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, is a family guide that covers all the basics- from infant oral health to proper diets for a healthy mouth.

    The guide features a smiling Kristi Yamaguchi (whose father Jim is a dentist), includes a DVD and provides an overview for parents of important preventive measures to take in their child’s everyday life. It outlines four steps in a healthy dental routine: brushing twice daily, flossing every day, following a healthy diet and visiting a dentist every six months.

    Some of the facts and advice in the guide are no-brainers, like the importance of brushing regularly. But some of the information may come as a surprise. For example, a good prenatal diet is crucial to building strong teeth in infants and babies. Also included are fun and helpful tips to help children learn good oral health and techniques for proper hygiene. Parents can sing and tell jokes while their children brush their teeth (for a full two minutes!) or kids can use a fun toothbrush to make teeth brushing more exciting.

    The guide is fun and the clear steps included in the book and DVD help make great oral health easy for all. You can find the guide here.