After a decade of reports and tragedy a lot of progress must be made to improve our oral health

A decade ago, the Surgeon General released a report on oral health that described unmet oral health needs as a “silent epidemic”. Five years ago, a 12 year old Maryland boy, Deamonte Driver, died due to an untreated molar infection which spread to his brain.

Like most dental disease, Deamonte’s cavity could have been treated. His death could have been prevented but he did not have access to care.

Despite a tragic death and a groundbreaking decade old report that chronicles the need for better access to dental care, too many Americans suffer silently and un-served.

Today, Senator Bernard Sanders (I-Vermont) and the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging confronted America’s dental crisis with a hearing and report that shined a light on the need to expand access to care.

The report, Dental Crisis in America: The Need to Expand Access, found that:

  • • More than 47 million people live in places where it is difficult to access dental care.
  • • About 17 million low-income children received no dental care in 2009.
  • • One fourth of adults in the U.S. ages 65 and older have lost all of their teeth.
  • • Low-income adults are almost twice as likely as higher-income adults to have gone without a dental check up in the previous year.
  • • Bad dental health impacts overall health and increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and poor birth outcomes.
  • • Almost 60 percent of kids ages 5 to 17 have cavities – making tooth decay five times more common than asthma among children of this age.
  • • Nearly 9,500 new dental providers are needed to meet the country’s current oral health needs.
  • • However, there are more dentists retiring each year than there are dental school graduates to replace them.
Senator Sanders recently told The Nation, “We have a real crisis both in terms of access to affordable dental care—and not only for lower-income Americans but for many in the middle-class as well—and the consequences of a lack of treatment.”

The consequences of dental crisis was evident this week as the Pew Center on the States released a report that detailed that lack of access to regular dental care is resulting in costly visits to the emergency room for preventable dental problems.

To address the access problems and public health consequences of poor access to dental care, the report explores potential solutions such as:

  • • expanding the oral health workforce
  • • integrating dental services: federally qualified health centers and school-based health centers as models
  • • expanding coverage and increasing reimbursement rates
  • • focus on prevention and education
In order to ensure that dental access is no longer silently overlooked, Sanders called on community members to, “Go to our website, tell us your views and observations on dental care. And do whatever you can to rally your representatives in the House and the Senate to begin to address this crisis. I think we’ve got to raise the noise and the level of consciousness about the dental crisis, and when we do that we can get some serious Congressional response.”

Speak up, be heard and ensure unmet oral health needs are no longer a silent epidemic.

 — David Jordan, Dental Access Project Director