by Alex Francis
Having access to a licensed dentist should be a right, not a privilege. All sorts of tooth related problems, ranging from small to large, can be prevented with regular checkups. But right now, a vast number of Americans have neither a wide enough budget nor the proper insurance to incorporate regular dental checkups into their health routines.
Dental Care: A Luxury
For many low income families in the United States without dental insurance, affording the services of a licensed dentist is incredibly difficult. In 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey that revealed 33 percent of people skipped dental care or dental checkups, because they were unable to afford them.
In 2003, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report that found 108 million Americans had no dental insurance (nearly 2.5 times the number of those who have no health insurance). Also, more than half of dental procedures are now paid for out of pocket.
A Bad Problem Can Become Much Worse
Many patients are now waiting until their small tooth problems grow into something unavoidable before seeking medical care. And instead of going to a professional dentist—or even finding an unqualified dentist or low-cost clinic—people are making trips to their local hospital’s emergency room, where they are dispensed pain medication instead of actual treatment.
According to the latest Pew research report on dentistry in America, in Florida alone, there are 115,000 hospital ER visits for dental problems each year. Pew says taxpayers foot the $88 million dollar bill for these visits. Even if the patient can eventually find care from a licensed dentist, it’s usually too late.
There are many basic solutions that could improve the current situation, including better educating consumers on the basics of oral hygiene. If people take care of their teeth on their own, with regular brushing and flossing, many larger complications could be warded off.
According to the non-profit advocacy group Oral Health America, there should be one dentist for every 1,500 people. Instead, there is one dentist per 2,000 Americans, and they are unevenly clustered geographically. For example, Oral Health America highlights one urban area in Washington state that has one dentist for every 950 people, while a neighboring rural county had one dentist per 12,300 people.
Another possibility is educating illegal dentists, so they can pass licensing exams and serve as legal dentists—increasing the total number of qualified workers in low-income neighborhoods.
There’s an undeniable problem with low-income patients not having appropriate access or monetary funds to receive proper dental care. Hopefully, with the implementation of these solutions in the near future, this terrible problem can soon shrink to a minor issue.
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Current Access to Dental Care Problematic
by Alex Francis