America and the Dental Divide

37982_4441For many people, planning a routine visit to the dentist may not be the most fun, but it is an important step to maintaining a healthy mouth. Unfortunately, not everyone has the resources to get semiannual cleanings to protect against the need for cavity treatmentsdental plaque buildup, gum disease and tooth decay. According to a recent research report released by the American Dental Association, the number of people that had to visit the emergency room due to dental problems nearly doubled within a decade in the United States. A new analysis of 2010 data from the ADA Healthy Policy Resources Center based on U.S. Census Data and Medical Expenditure Panel Survey found that 181 million Americans didn’t visit the dentist during that year. This likely plays a major role in the fact that nearly 50 percent of adults over the age of 30 suffer from some form of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Increased ER visits from dental issues
Based on statistics from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, ER visits due to dental issues grew from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010. This means that dental-related visits increased from 1.06 percent to 1.65 percent of all ER visits. While there are many reasons why people don’t make appointments with the dentist, one of the major issues is an individual’s lack of dental insurance. According to the study, young adults between the ages of 21 and 34 are the main demographic responsible for the increase in visits to the emergency room because many people in that age bracket don’t have access to a dental provider.

The nonprofit organization, Community Catalyst, has been urging for a mid-level position that could help improve the amount of care available to patients. Since roughly 130 million Americans don’t have access to dental insurance, dental therapists could provide similar care that nurses or physician assistants perform at a doctor’s office without a patient needing coverage. Unfortunately, many dentists oppose this new position and there are only a few states that authorize dental therapists. People in this position could provide preventive measures, but not cavity treatments that are available from licensed dentists only.

The ADA also recently launched a campaign, “Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference,” which aims to breach the dental divide in America. Announced on May 15, the organization strives to reduce the amount of children and adults with untreated dental issues like gum disease and cavities.

“We’ve made great progress, with each generation enjoying better dental health than the one before,” ADA President Dr. Robert Faiella said. “But there’s still a dangerous divide in America between those with good dental health and those without. Our mission is to close that divide. Good oral health isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.”

The dental divide
According to an online study conducted by Harris Interactive, nearly half of adults in lower-income families in the United States say they have not visited a dentist in the past year, while 70 percent of middle-class earners have. Going to the dentist is incredibly important to maintaining a healthy mouth because professionals are able to get rid of dental plaque that cannot be removed from brushing and flossing alone. Because of this staggering statistic, adults over the age of 18 who are in low-income households are roughly twice as likely as their middle-class counterparts to have all of their teeth removed, which is 7 percent versus 3 percent.

In addition, roughly 18 percent of low-income individuals reported that they or other members of their family had to go to the emergency room for a dental issue at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, only 6 percent of those people reported an improvement with the problem that initially prompted the ER visit.

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