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The U.S.’s Oral Health Crisis: Why Many Americans Won’t Smile

The U.S.’s Oral Health Crisis: Why Many Americans Won’t Smile

As your dentist in Vancouver, WA, Dr. Gary Ostenson wants every patient to enjoy the very best oral health possible. Unfortunately, many patients living across the country don’t have access to they need.

It was 15 years ago that then Surgeon General David Satcher issued a call to action to address what he referred to as America’s “silent epidemic” – the country’s growing prevalence of oral disease.

Sadly, the U.S. hasn’t made much progress over the last 15 years in combating this growing problem. Just recently, thousands of Americans lined up for free dental treatment at the California state fairground in Sacramento. Some of those truly in need of treatment waited in line overnight to ensure their place.

Similar types of clinics will be held across the country in the coming months. That thousands of people must willingly line up overnight to receive dental and medical care in impromptu clinics set up in barns and animal stalls shows that something has gone wrong with the health care system in the U.S.

In his 2000 report, “Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General,” Satcher wrote that while the U.S. had made significant strides in some areas to improve Americans health, “there are profound and consequential disparities in the oral health of our citizens.”

Those disparities in care still exist today, according to a study conducted by Wakefield Research and the Children’s Dental Health Project, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Not only do many low-income Americans struggle to receive adequate dental care, many in the middle class are now experiencing these same difficulties.

A Troubling Trend

While the current state may seem grim, there’s hope that more equitable access to oral health is possible. Three states currently have initiatives that are making a difference, and public health initiative advocates working in Vermont hope that state will become the fourth with such legislation on the books.

Nearly 40 percent of the adults surveyed said that they or a family member had postponed visiting a dentist during the last year due to the out-of-pocket cost they would have to pay. A third of those adults said they or a family currently were suffering from a toothache or other oral health problem that needed to be addressed.

The Children’s Dental Health Project’s study found that members of ethnic or racial minorities continue to suffer disproportionally, as was also the case in 2000.

Approximately 36 percent of Hispanics and 34 percent of black said their teeth are in such poor condition they’re embarrassed for others to see them.

However, it’s not just low-income families that suffer from too little dental care. Researchers found that a large number of middle class Americans also said they are self-conscious about the state of their smile.

Approximately 20 percent of individuals surveyed with annual incomes of $75,000 or higher said that occasionally avoid smiling or do other things that make it harder for others to see the appearance of their teeth.

When asked if they or a family member had postponed visiting the dentist over the last year due to out-of-pocket expenses, 26 percent of those surveyed whose incomes exceeded $75,000 said yes. Other groups also answering “yes” to that question were 38 percent individuals with household incomes between $35,000 to $74,000, and 46 percent of people with income under $35,000.

Statistics from across the country show this problem is not located in just a handful of states, but is wide spread from coast to coast.

Changing the State of Oral Health Care

A lack of qualified dentists is one of the biggest hurdles researchers have discovered that contributes to a lack of available care to many Americans. To alleviate this problem, a number of consumer and patient advocacy groups are hoping Vermont will follow Maine’s example of allowing mid-level dental providers to practice in the state. Maine last year was the third state to allow mid-level dental practitioners to treat patients, following the lead of Minnesota and Alaska.

Advocates hope that more schools will start training dental therapists to work under general dentists and provide limited treatments, such as filling, preventative care, and tooth extractions. As proposals like these gain more momentum, public health advocates hope that more people will being receiving the dental care they deserve.


If you are unhappy with the current state of your smile, don’t wait to address your oral health. At Ostenson Dental, Drs. Gary and Kyle Ostenson are currently accepting patients at our Vancouver dental care office. Call 360-693-3112 today to schedule your next appointment!


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