Preventive Dental Care Elusive for Many Americans

175216516Too many Americans don’t have access to necessary preventative dental care, reports a recent study, and significant differences exist among different ethnic and racial groups.

As part of the study, researcher examined data from a telephone survey of nearly 650,000 middle-aged and senior adults between 1999 and 2008. Researchers discovered that the number of individuals who received preventive dental care increased during that period.

However, between 23 and 43 percent of Americans did not receive preventive dental care in 2008, depending on ethnicity or race. Rates of preventive care were 57 percent for African Americans, 62 percent for Native Americans and Hispanics, 76 percent for whites and 77 percent for Asian Americans, the survey found.

The results for the study were published in the online journal Frontiers in Public Health.

A Growing Divide

According to the study’s results, factors such as having health insurance, education, and income all accounted for the difference in access to preventive dental care among whites and other racial groups except African Americans.

Researchers believe the lower rate of access among African Americans results from a lack of awareness regarding the importance of oral health and regular dental care services, and to an inadequate number of competent African American dentists. Additionally, many Native Americans who live on reservations don’t receive adequate oral care, partly due to few dental care professionals electing to work for Indian Health Services.

Researchers also discovered that individuals with health insurance were 138 percent more likely to receive preventive oral care services when compared to those without health insurance. Women were 33 percent more likely to receive preventive oral care than men.

Smokers were also less likely to receive preventive oral care, a very serious concern considering the threat tobacco use presents to an individual’s long-term health.

The findings of this study only help to reinforce what dentists and health care professionals have long advocated for – the implementation of public health care programs that target middle-aged and senior Americans, improve access to oral care and creates an oral health workforce that meets the needs of each cultural community.

A National Epidemic

Unsurprisingly considering the lack of adequate oral care services, tooth decay has become an epidemic.

Tooth decay ranks as the most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults, despite it being largely preventable. While the rates of tooth decay have actually decreased over the last 40 years among children, the prevalence of decay has skyrocketed among seniors and middle-aged adults.

Approximately 92 percent of adults between the ages of 20 to 64 have dealt with from some degree of tooth decay, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. In this age group, 23 percent suffer from untreated decay.

When left untreated, tooth decay can cause permanent damage to an individual’s oral health and increase the risk of gum disease. Failing to treat either condition can lead to permanent tooth loss among adults, and a number of other chronic long-term health concerns that can greatly impact an individual’s quality of life. A sad consequence for many who cannot receive the care they so badly need.