Look After Your Teeth – And They Will Help Look After You in Life

Keep smiling. Well, that’s not always easily done if cash is tight and the Medicaid allowance is on a short leash. You know your teeth and gums are suffering, but in America today getting them fixed to keep your oral health up to scratch tends to be the privilege of the wealthy. While mothers-to-be are encouraged to eat sensibly during pregnancy, and that means foods rich in calcium, getting the right diet while on food stamps can be a struggle.

Calcium helps to form strong teeth and bones while vitamin D, which the body needs to absorb calcium, is an important partner in dietary intake for maintaining healthy teeth and gums, all the benefits of which are passed on to the unborn child.

The struggle to keep that winning smile

Besides these, fluoride is a must for keeping that winning smile. From an early age children can avoid getting teeth cavities by the intake of fluoride in the first few years of their lives. Fluoride is in most people’s water supply but not all municipalities fluoridate their water.

Problems with poorly-maintained teeth do not just affect the mouth, though. Failing to look after your teeth and gums properly can cause conditions and illness in other parts of the body. Dentists and doctors have linked gum disease with diabetes, heart and lung diseases, strokes, and even premature births. Youngsters who don’t see a dentist regularly are more likely to be off school through infected teeth and gums and, what’s more, in adulthood they can develop serious dental problems. Then there’s the psychological factor – lack of confidence in meeting people due to poor oral health both socially and in the workplace. In essence, good dentistry can help ensure your future success in life.

America has a worrying imbalance in dental care, from state to state, province to province. Federal government figures reveal that almost 50 million people, largely in rural and agrarian areas of the mid-West, live in places that have an alarming shortage of dentists. Besides this, as many as 130 million US citizens have no dental insurance – that’s nearly three times as many as those who have no medical cover.

Flawed dental-care system

The existing dental system is therefore fundamentally flawed and fails to provide a broad safety net to ensure good oral health. In real terms, 9 out of 10 dentists are small-business owners who have sole responsibility for running their practices without reasonable Government back-up funding. It hardly comes as a surprise therefore that many of them refuse to treat patients who get state dental benefits through Medicaid system because dental fee reimbursements are so poor and unrealistic.

But it’s not all bad news as well as bad teeth. There’s a small movement of reformers who have been rallying around to come up with a remedy to the problem. Their idea is to supplement the country’s system of private dental practitioners with a back-up group of what are known as mid-level providers. These are trained nurse practitioners specializing in teeth and gum problems who can operate in the field as dental technicians.

Presenting the case for this back-up force at the US Senate last year was experienced hygienist and now dental therapist from Minneapolis, Christy Jo Fogarty. Christy told the assembly: “No longer will seeing a dentist be the only means to entering the dental system. This means schools, nursing homes, community center, really anywhere with a power source, can become a place to receive dental care.”

However, the greatest resistance to the cheaper dental care cause has come, perhaps surprisingly, from the dentists themselves. They fear a two-tier dental system evolving while their ulterior motive in opposing the mid-level providers is to keep these less expensive professionals from entering the dentistry market, so keeping dental charges high.

A dental therapist costs a typical community clinic $43 an hour. Over the course of a year, that adds up to $60,000 in savings per dental therapist – savings that will free up a budget for more staff and increased treatment. This all rather adds weight to the argument that a dentist’s real concern is not looking after the oral health of the community, but looking after his business profits.

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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