Many Americans Do Not Receive Dental Care, Report Says
Millions of Americans are not receiving adequate dental care, mainly due to a lack of access to providers and inadequate preventive services, according to a new report. The AP/Contra Costa Times reports that the 50-state study, conducted by the advocacy group Oral Health America with assistance from federal health officials, gave the nation a "C" grade on overall dental care. The report, which comes two years after Surgeon General David Satcher labeled the problem of inadequate dental care in America a "silent epidemic," graded each state based on 22 measures of dental care. Below are some of the main findings of the study:
- "At least" one-third of Americans do not see a dentist even once a year. For low-income individuals, the percentage rises to more than 50%.
- While Medicaid covers dental visits for children, in no state did at least 50% of Medicaid-eligible children get an annual dental visit. In the four states that performed best on this measure, only 40% of these children visited a dentist. The study says the poor rates occur because Medicaid reimbursement rates are generally so low that few dentists participate in the program.
- In 10 states, less than 50% of the population drinks fluoridated water.
- About 24% of seniors have lost all their teeth (Neergaard, AP/Contra Costa Times, 1/29).
The report card, the second issued by Oral Health America, expands on the 2000 surgeon general's report, which found that more than 108 million Americans lacked dental insurance, nearly triple the number that lacked medical insurance. It also found that tooth decay affected 50% of first-graders and 80% of 17-year-olds, and that 30,000 Americans developed oral cancer each year. "Our report card shows the nation needs to pay more attention to oral health. We can make great strides in improving oral health by implementing tested preventive measures and by ensuring more people see an oral health professional on a regular basis," Robert Klaus, president of Oral Health America, said (Oral Health America release, 1/23).
Despite the overall poor state of dental care, the new report did find that states have made improvements. Some, such as Alabama and Georgia, have increased Medicaid funding of dental care. Ohio, New York and Illinois have launched "successful, innovative programs to get cavity-blocking sealants placed in tens of thousands of children's teeth." Finally, 46 states have hired a dental director, a position recommended by the surgeon general (AP/Contra Costa Times, 1/29). Noting this latter improvement, Klaus said, "Oral health is now on the radar screen, and the U.S. needs to match this awareness with resources" (Oral Health America release, 1/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.