Sink Your Teeth into Oral Health

by Pamela Barclay on February 29, 2012


Healthy Smile

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Photo Credit: Politikaner)

Indicators of a variety of conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis are thought to be linked to the health of your mouth. For example, correlations have been found between periodontal disease in pregnant women and pre-term birth, repeated oral fungal infections and cavities and diabetes, and healthy smiles and self-esteem and mental health.  A recent study conducted by the Pew Center on the States, “A Costly Dental Destination: Hospital Care Means States Pay Dearly” highlights the need for access to preventative dental care for people of all ages.

In 2009, it was estimated that “preventable dental conditions were the primary reason for 830,590 ER visits by Americans”. This is a 16% increase from 2006 and includes visits by children and adults. In some states, as many as 50% of the patients being seen in the ER for dental problems were enrolled in Medicaid programs and have difficulty being seen for regular checkups.

According to the study, using hospital emergency systems to treat preventable dental problems is not efficient and is costly. Most emergency rooms are not staffed with dentists and can often only provide short term relief. It has also been shown that emergency room visits are more costly than routine preventative dental care. For example in Florida in 2010, dental problems accounted for more than 115,000 ER visits and more than $88 million in charges.

The need for increased support for preventative dental care is not newly recognized. In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began providing funding and technical support to States for oral disease prevention and have implemented an Oral Health Strategic plan through 2014. The Pew Center study highlights that increasing the access to dental services, especially for children, is essential to solving this problem. States often have different policies that influence oral care for residents and can impact the likelihood that different strategies for improving access will work. Several strategies that have been suggested include:

  • A focus on prevention: examples include enabling the sealing of children’s teeth to prevent decay, fluoridating water the water supply, and involving medical providers and physicians who see children more often than dentists.
  • Expanding the dental workforce: examples include offering additional training to dental hygienists and expanding dental licensing to include dental therapists that work under the supervision of dentists.
  • Ensuring that the policies for Medicaid reimbursement cover the cost of treatment to encourage dental practices to accept more Medicaid patients.

I suppose that it is not simple coincidence that this study was published during National Children’s Dental Health Month, sponsored by the American Dental Association. Good (and bad) habits are often formed during childhood, so encouraging dental care early is essential to a lifetime of good oral health.


American Dental Association. (2012). National Children’s Dental Health Month. [online]

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Oral Health Strategic Plan for 2011-2014. Division of Oral Health. [online]

The Pew Center on the States. (February, 2012). A Costly Dental Destination: Hospital Care Means States Pay Dearly. Pew Children’s Dental Campaign. [online]

Willcutt, R. (2000). What the mouth reveals: Can it predict problems in the body? UAB Magazine. 20 (2). [online]