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]

PF Anderson February 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Beautiful. :) Of course, I’m prejudiced, as the previous Dentistry Librarian on campus. A big portion of what attracted me to that position was that dentistry poses the last major social healthcare frontier in this country, the last major way in which people visually immediately distinguish between the haves and havenots for people with no other distinguishing signs of poverty of affluence. Delighted that you are bringing attention to this important and timely issue.

Pamela Barclay March 5, 2012 at 11:52 am

Thanks for the comments. I was excited to see this report released as well. Part of what intrigued me the most was the focus on “dental deserts” where there is simply not care available, insurance coverage or not.

Carol Shannon March 1, 2012 at 8:31 am

Like Patricia, I’m very pleased to see a story about dental health and how important it is in itself and in people’s overall health, in part because I’m one of the liaisons from the Library to the School of Dentistry. It would be great if you could write in a more active voice. You’ve got a catchy title, but the rest of the post is written very formally. Turning your first sentence into a question would be a good way to begin and writing more informally throughout the post will draw people’s attention to your content.

Pamela Barclay March 5, 2012 at 11:56 am

Thanks for the tip…writing less formally has proven to be a challenge for me. Maybe a creative writing class would serve me well!

Angela March 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Thanks for the post! I hope that something is being done about dental health (or any health care) inequalities in the US soon. Wondered if you knew more about the latest science around the for/against fluoridising water debate. But no worries if not – I know it’s a bit off topic!

Pamela Barclay March 13, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I actually do not know much about the water fluoridation controversy…I’ve seen articles arguing both ways, but I know that there are cities that do currently have community water fluoridation. the CDC has some good information on this topic:

rosette715 March 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Dental health is one of those types of care that “goes by the wayside” when speaking about overall health and cost. While immunizations and regular physicals are very important, regular dental checkups should be equally important. Self esteem was briefly mentioned in your article, but I know for a fact that a healthy mouth and good, straight teeth can do wonders for a person’s self image, allowing that person to go out in the world feeling more confident.

Pamela Barclay March 20, 2012 at 11:19 pm

As a person who had braes for almost 3 years, I agree with your comments about self esteem and confidence; unfortunately poor oral health is often readily visible.

red bottom April 9, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

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