Americans have very good oral health. Generations ago, most people lost their teeth by middle age. Today, thanks to the benefits of fluoride, healthier lifestyles and professional dental care, more people than ever before are keeping their natural teeth throughout their lifetime. Yet for people who live in areas where a dentist is not available or who cannot afford treatment, access to dental care can be difficult.
Recently, CBS News aired a segment about a mother seeking care for herself and her two children at a free dental care event in Wisconsin. Thousands of dentists across the country volunteer at such events to help people who do not have access to dental care. As the nation’s leading advocate for oral health, the American Dental Association is dedicated to improving access to dental care in a variety of ways.
For years, the American Dental Association has been striving to raise awareness and advance solutions when it comes to improving access to dental care. Dentists are the leading advocates for improving access to dental care, but we can’t do it alone. We all have a stake in this issue. Government, business leaders, insurance companies, health care professionals and individuals all need to work together to improve access to dental care.
Oral health care needs to be a priority. Left untreated it can lead to serious health consequences-tooth loss, infection, damage to bone or nerve. Infection from an abscessed tooth can spread to other parts of the body and, ultimately, may even lead to death. Clearly, oral health is just as important as non-oral health.
Prevention is the key. Dental disease is almost entirely preventable. We need people to become empowered about their oral health-how simple measures like brushing and flossing their teeth and eating a balanced diet can protect against tooth decay, and understanding the importance of drinking fluoridated water.
Everyone has a stake in this issue. Pain from untreated dental decay results in lost school and work hours. People may seek care in hospital emergency rooms, most of which aren’t well equipped to handle dental emergencies, and where the cost of treatment is far greater than a dental office visit. That’s why we as a society need to invest in providing access to dental care to underserved people. All of us-government, business leaders, insurance companies, health care professionals and individuals-need to develop access to dental care solutions that work in our communities.
On March 23, 2009, the ADA convened representatives from a variety of communities of interest to create a shared vision in order to improve the oral health of underserved populations. The Access to Dental Care Summit affirmed the dental profession’s commitment to serve as a convener and collaborator committed to finding common ground and shared solutions to one of the major health problems facing some of the nation’s most vulnerable people. Proceedings of this Summit can be downloaded below.
Volunteerism is also a way to improve access to dental care. Tens of thousands of dentists provide free care to hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged children each year through the ADA’s annual Give Kids A Smile program.
State dental societies in Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and elsewhere regularly organize Missions of Mercy, in which thousands of people receive free care, often in remote areas, in temporary dental “hospitals.”
Countless individual dentists routinely provide free or discounted care to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it, care that, according to one survey, amounted to $1.6 billion in a single year.
However, no matter how much free care dentists give, volunteerism alone won’t solve the problem. Charity is not a health care system. That’s why the ADA, other dental organizations, and our colleagues in medicine and public health continuously advocate for repairing the system that is supposed to provide oral health care to low-income and other disadvantaged populations.
State dental societies work constantly with their legislatures and health agencies to increase funding for dental services in Medicaid and to raise awareness of the importance of oral health to overall health.
The ADA strongly supports community water fluoridation as the single most effective public health measure to protect against tooth decay. No matter what your economic status, you can help guard against tooth decay simply by drinking fluoridated water. It’s estimated that for every dollar spent on community water fluoridation, $38 in dental treatment cost is saved.
Why is it that more than 30 percent of Americans who receive water through public water systems still don’t enjoy the benefit of optimally fluoridated water? Community water fluoridation, school-based/school-linked dental programs and dental health education are critical components of the type of comprehensive system needed to end the scourge of untreated oral disease among the most vulnerable Americans.
A common misconception is that if we just had more dentists, there wouldn’t be an access to care problem. But the overall number of dentists is not the issue-it’s where they’re located, how many people they’re able to treat and whether people can afford treatment or whether there’s a way to pay for their care.
Some states, even some individual communities have helped place dentists in rural or urban underserved areas through stipends, loan forgiveness and other incentives.
At Dental Depot we have numerous locations to serve your needs. We are also continually giving back to the community in many ways. Smiley O’Riley visits many schools each year to tell our children about the benefits of good oral health. We try to share information freely through this blog. We share dental activity sheets for kids through our Twitter and Facebook pages. We also participated in this year’s Mission of Mercy in Oklahoma City at the Cox Convention Center.
If you are interested in ways to help provide access to dental care for the under privledged or under served, go to www.dentaldepot.net and drop us a note. We’d love to hear from you.
*Some content provided by the ADA, www.ada.org