Tuesday, April 12, 2005

An Unnecessary Continuing Epidemic - Dental Disease

The New York Times has an excellent story today on the unnecessary and continuing dental disease epidemic, especially in the poorest and most rural areas in the United States:

ALBUQUERQUE - His teenage patient is dressed in a khaki work suit and flip-flops, reclining in the dental chair as Dr. James Strohschein probes with his mirror and says, "Huh!"

Anticipating the diagnosis, his patient mumbles: "Yeah, crystal meth. It broke my tooth."

Dr. Strohschein, an assistant professor of surgery and dental services at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, sees patients at the Youth Diagnostic and Detention Center in Albuquerque, the entry port for New Mexico's juvenile offenders.

"Most of these kids have horrible teeth," he says, "but they qualify for Medicaid because they're wards of the state, and by the time they've left this facility, we're able to fix most of their dental problems. In a strange way, they're the lucky ones. It's safe to say that most poor kids aren't in trouble with the law, but they have big problems with their teeth."

In 2000, Dr. David Satcher, then the surgeon general, issued the first report on oral health in America. Calling dental and oral diseases a "silent epidemic," the report details significant oral health problems in poor people of all ages, members of racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and those living in rural America.

The report emphasized that the major factors exacerbating the condition of Americans' teeth and gums were lack of community fluoridation programs, lack of transportation to see dental providers and low rates of dental insurance coverage.

According to most authorities on oral health, dental care for Americans has not improved since the surgeon general's report, and there are many indications that it is getting worse.

Read the rest of the story here.

I see and treat the tragedies of dental disease on the poor every day.

It is so unfortunate that dental caries and periodontal disease is as rampant today (or worse) than when I began the practice of dentistry over 25 years ago.

This is a multi-faceted problem.... but a solution that should begin with a national campaign on dental education, awareness and nutrition.

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