A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Oral Health Study Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

Oral Health Study Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

April 23, 2009

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study,Massachusetts can boast the second-highest rate of dentists per person in the country. The study results showed the District of Columbia in the lead, with Massachusetts following close behind.

Despite these great numbers, nearly 25 percent of communities in the Commonwealth do not have a practicing dentist. There is an uneven distribution of oral health care, which means that many families, particularly those in Western Massachusetts, must travel long distances to get the care they need. This burden of travel often translates into an inability to access care.
The mouth is the gateway to the body. Preventable infections that begin in the mouth can travel through the rest of the body, creating or encouraging serious long-term health problems. Decades of research have confirmed the associations between dental disease and other chronic ailments such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and preterm birth. Yet dental disease remains the most common chronic disease of childhood- nearly half of all children have a history of dental decay by the time they reach the third grade. This widespread disease is almost entirely preventable when children have access to oral health screenings and treatment early and often.
We can do better than this. The state’s current system of oral health care is an uneven patchwork of services, so we need to be creative when developing ways to deliver oral health care to all communities. By partnering with organizations that already exist in our communities, like schools, community health centers, county clinics and local health departments, we can start to reach the parts of our state where oral health care is less available and create new channels to improve overall health.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously noted that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” With this in mind, we must take action. Please join me in speaking up for children’s oral health by visiting Watch Your Mouth at www.WatchYourMouth.org or contacting Czarina at biton@hcfama.org.

- Christine Keeves