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How We Can Get More Americans in the Dentist’s Chair

Photo: Courtesy of Michael Browning

Beth Truett

Oral Health America

Beth Truett of Oral Health America wants you to make your mouth a priority. But she knows that’s not always an easy ask.

Truett sees three distinct factors that keep people out of the dentist’s chair: lack of knowledge, lack of time and lack of funds.  

Understanding the risks  

Gum disease is now believed to be not only an indicator of but a potential catalyst for diabetes. Inflammation in the gums can also travel through the body to the brain or, more commonly, the heart, leading to a heart attack. In the past decade, Truett notes, “knowledge has improved and awareness has grown, but there’s still a huge divide, especially among the 20 percent of people who bear 80 percent of the disease.”

But the dangers of ignoring dental health are manifold. From a social perspective, missing teeth, bad breath or an inability to enunciate properly can negatively impact employment opportunities, school performance and overall self-esteem. Poor oral health can also impact aspects of daily living, such as blocking the ability to chew and eat nutritious foods, for high-need populations including young children and the elderly.

Making the time  

When moms are surveyed about dental health, their reaction is overwhelmingly: “time is not my friend.” Dental health is seen as a luxury, not a necessity.

“If it’s not in your DNA or your habits or you don’t have the money to go regularly, then you may wait until you’re in pain,” Truett explains. But, “by the time you’re in pain, disease is already present. That complicates the job for the hygienist, who is now dealing with something more complex that could have been averted.” Truett believes that if we can spread awareness of this reality as well as the other risks, more Americans will be proactive about dentist visits.

Increasing access

Truett also notes that every age group needs tailored attention when it comes to breaking down barriers to dental care access. Schools, she suggests, are “an excellent place in which to offer oral health services.” Besides reducing cost, in-school service means “parents don’t have to take out of work… and kids are simply called when the appointment is ready, so there are fewer missed appointments.”

For older Americans, Truett continues, “if they want to enjoy eating, smiling, kissing their grandchildren into old age, the time has come for an oral health benefit in Medicare.”

Truett is hopeful about better oral health for all, but acknowledges that to spread brighter smiles, all Americans need to join the fight. “[OHA] wants to step in and invigorate communities to take a role. I don’t think there’s any organization that can do what communities won’t do.”

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