America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and we have the most working dentists per capita, too—about twice as many as the second-highest contender, Brazil. However, these statistics obscure an unfortunate truth about American oral health, which is that diseases like tooth decay and gum disease still cause significant pain and hardship for many U.S. adults and children. One in four American adults still has untreated tooth decay—that’s about 2.5 million in the state of North Carolina alone. In this article, our Hudson NC dentist takes a look at some of the dental issues still facing Americans.
In suburban American cities, where there seems to be a dentist’s office on every street, it’s easy to think that the overall picture of dental health in this country is very good. However, unfortunately, dental care is one of the most prevalent health issues to affect children. Cavities caused by tooth decay are the most common chronic health problem to affect U.S. children, five times more common than asthma, and seven times more common than hay fever. Almost half of all children 11 years and under have cavities. Poor children suffer twice as much dental caries as their more affluent peers, and their disease is more likely to be untreated.
While tooth decay primarily destroys the teeth, it sadly has far more far-reaching effects on a child’s overall health and quality of life. Severe pain and health issues leads to poor school attendance and performance, and can negatively impact speech, nutrition, self-esteem, and physical wellness. Additionally, poor oral health can have a real impact on a child’s ability to learn. Oral diseases such as cavities can cause decreased appetite, depression, and inability to focus attention – all of which can lead to lower school attendance and learning performance. On average, children in low-income families with limited access to preventive dental care will miss three times as many school days due to oral health problems.
In 2010, more than 132 million U.S. children and adults lacked dental insurance, and only about one-third of U.S. dentists accepted Medicaid. In fact, for every person without medical insurance in our country, there are about three people are without dental insurance. As a result, dental care is one of the first health-related services that people delay when encountering financial difficulties.
Another consequence of insufficient dental insurance is wasteful emergency room visits for preventable dental conditions. In 2013, there were 2 million visits every year to hospital emergency rooms for preventable oral health conditions, most of them by young and low-income adults. Most emergency rooms do not have dentists on staff to provide dental treatment, so patients are typically prescribed painkillers or antibiotics. This does not treat the underlying cause of the problem, and 39% of these patients eventually return to the ER.