Oral Disease a Silent Epidemic says Surgeon General

I recently wrote about a study conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA) which found that when it comes to oral health, Americans aren’t the brightest, (Poor Oral Health Knowledge Leads to New ADA Website) and yet another report has added onto these findings, determining that not only do we not know much about the topic, the status of our oral health isn’t great either. In 2008, a National Health Interview Survey was conducted by U.S. Census Bureau interviewers. Supplementary questions about oral health were added by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in order to develop and expand oral health outcome measures, and to produce estimates for the U.S. population, both as a whole and broken into smaller demographic groups, that could be used to plan for future initiatives aimed at improving oral health. The details of the survey were described in the ADA News article, “Oral health status measured in national survey.”

Interviewers questioned more than 17,000 adults on topics such as length of time since last dental visit, mouth problems (including bad breath, dry mouth, or jaw pain), tooth problems (such as toothache, discoloration, broken or missing teeth, bleeding gums, or loose teeth), reasons for not seeing a dentist, and the influence of income on dental care. Interviewers also asked individuals to rate their oral health as very good, good, fair, or poor. No clinical measurements were taken. The survey collected some very interesting findings, which include:

• Adults with Medicaid were nearly five times as likely as adults with private insurance to have poor oral health.

• Non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic Asian adults were more likely than Hispanic or non-Hispanic black adults to have very good oral health.

• Level of education directly correlated with better oral health status. • Adults with diabetes were nearly twice as likely as adults without to have worse oral health.

• Adults with Medicaid were almost twice as likely as adults overall to not have visited the dentist within the last five years.

• Individuals who abstain from alcohol were less likely to have issues with their teeth than current or former drinkers.

• The two top reasons for skipping dental visits were cost and fear.

The report, “Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General,” was the first of its kind, focusing exclusively on oral, dental, and craniofacial health by the Surgeon General. In addition to stating their findings, the report also called attention to what they call a “silent epidemic” of dental and oral disease, with clear access gaps across the country. Experts agree that oral health is directly related to overall wellness, leading many to believe that big changes need to be made in order to improve access to dental care. To read the full report, visit http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/SurgeonGeneral/sgr/.

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