Archive for Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dental care

The importance of good dental care is getting some much-needed attention in Kansas.

March 13, 2012


Dental care isn’t just a cosmetic issue. It is an important health concern that is drawing needed attention across Kansas.

In an attempt to draw even more attention to the issue, the Kansas Health Foundation is launching a new campaign called “Truth About Teeth.” The Wichita-based foundation plans to use billboards and other advertising to inform Kansans about the state’s dental health.

One billboard will inform people that 58 percent of Kansas third-graders have experienced tooth decay. Other statistics cited by the foundation:

• Kansas hospitals reported more than 17,500 emergency room visits related to dental problems in 2010. (That included 488 ER visits to Lawrence Memorial Hospital.)

• Kansas ranks 18th in the United States for total tooth loss among senior citizens.

• Only 25 percent of Kansas dentists accept patients insured through Medicaid.

• Ninety-three Kansas counties do not have enough dentists to serve their residents and 13 have no dentists at all.

That last statistic was questioned by a local dentist responding to a recent article on the Journal-World’s website. He noted that Douglas County is among those listed as underserved, which doesn’t make much sense considering the number of dentists who practice in Lawrence. He also noted that the availability of dentists isn’t as big an issue as the lack of dentists who treat Medicaid patients. The number of dentists who provide that care is so low, he said, because of the state’s low reimbursement rates and the burdensome filing requirements for that reimbursement. He also noted that individuals, especially those who know they can’t afford to visit a dentist regularly, need to take responsibility for their own dental health by brushing, flossing and limiting their sugar intake.

Those are all good points. It doesn’t matter if there are more dentists if people can’t afford to visit them. If the state’s current Medicaid rates or paperwork pose a serious impediment to dental care in the state, officials should try to address those issues. The importance of personal responsibility also should be covered in the Kansas Health Foundation’s education campaign. It’s likely that many of the dental-related visits to Kansas emergency rooms could have been avoided by good dental hygiene or a timely visit to a dentist before the problem reached the critical stage. Lawrence is fortunate to have the Douglas County Dental Clinic, which can provide such care to low-income residents.

People have the tendency to think of dental health as being related only to the teeth and gums, but serious dental problems also affect a person’s overall health. Congratulations to the Kansas Health Foundation for putting new emphasis on dental health issues. We hope the foundation’s campaign will spawn many new education and health initiatives to improve dental health across Kansas.


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

"It’s likely that many of the dental-related visits to Kansas emergency rooms could have been avoided by good dental hygiene or a timely visit to a dentist before the problem reached the critical stage."

That's a very serious understatement!

Some time ago I read about a financial adviser who helped people with their retirement plans. It sounded odd to some, but one of the first questions he asked his clients was if they flossed regularly. And, if the answer was yes, then he needed to assume that they would live about seven years longer than if they answered no. So, that was a consideration in their financial planning, so that they would not run out of money when they got older.

What many people seem to not be aware of is that the bacteria in between their teeth produce toxins that not only lead to bad breath, but are injurious to health in other ways as well. Heart disease is believed to be one of them.

But, since it appears that Social Security may have financial problems in the future, perhaps it would be wise to not discuss brushing and flossing so much, so that the people who don't do it will die quicker, and thus not deplete the funds available for the people who do take care of their overall health.

Bob Forer 6 years, 2 months ago

The primary reason that people who floss live longer has very little to to with dental toxins. They primary reason flossers live longer than non-flossers is because as a group, they tend to take their health a lot more seriously and have a healthier lifestyle.

Flossing is not magically going to add seven years to your life.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 2 months ago

One of the most common reasons for dental problems is "dry mouth", i.e. xerostomia. And currently over 400 commonly used medications list dry mouth as a side effect, including drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, pain, allergies, and colds (antihistamines and decongestants), obesity, acne, epilepsy, hypertension, diarrhea, nausea, psychotic disorders, urinary incontinence, asthma, muscle relaxants and sedatives.

And then there's simple aging.

Like it or not, all the brushing and flossing and avoiding sugar in the world isn't going to help if your saliva is not working to remineralize the enamel on your teeth as it wears away.

And "timely visits to the dentist"??? Never mind that there are few dentists taking Medicaid...the fact is that dental insurance only provides $1,000 (sometimes $1,500) worth of coverage! What kind of dental care can you get for $1,000-$1,500 if you need more than cleaning twice a year? And, if you can't afford treatment, all the "timely visits" to the dentist in the world won't make a bit of difference.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

Good home care is very good at preventing issues.

And, regular cleaning twice a year at the dentist only costs about $200, well within the guidelines you mention.

Those two things combined with a decent diet will prevent a lot of dental issues pretty inexpensively.

Fillings aren't that expensive either, and are probably the most common treatment needed.

Chris Leiszler 6 years, 2 months ago

All great points Kendall! Regarding your last point about dental insurance only providing $1,000 - $1,500 of benefit/year... This is indeed true! And amazingly, this has been true ever since dental benefits were first offered in the 1970s. Sadly, this maximum amount has not gone up over the past 4 decades, but fees for these services certainly have (just like anything else). This becomes problematic because people tend to think that if their dental insurance doesn't cover something, it must not be needed... And of course this mindset eventually leads to more expensive problems and/or fewer and less desirable options down the road. (I am the dentist referred to in the Editorial, and I see this scenario daily.) Granted, some people truly cannot afford all the care they need, even if insurance does cover some of it, and that is always a difficult situation. But I do wish people could better grasp what you were saying, and (if they are able) find a way to set some funds aside in their budget to cover any remaining treatment that isn't covered by their dental benefits. I may be biased, but I feel that one's health is worth investing in, moreso than an expensive cell phone, cigarettes, a pantry full of junk food, Starbucks, and a myriad of other daily habits/expenses that add up to thousands of dollars in a year's time. Redirecting one's funds toward more important things would certainly lead to better health for people, and prevent bigger and more expensive problems for themselves in the future.

Resident10 6 years, 2 months ago

There is a long line of very well-qualified young people trying to get into dental school. I think we need to be asking why enrollment to these schools has become so exclusive.

handley 6 years, 2 months ago

Could it be that insurance companys do not cover dental work

deec 6 years, 2 months ago

"...moreso than an expensive cell phone, cigarettes, a pantry full of junk food, Starbucks, and a myriad of other daily habits/expenses that add up to thousands of dollars in a year's time. " Alternate, reality-based list of things low income people spend money on instead of buying the good dentist's products: keeping the lights and heat on, putting some milk, rice and beans on the table, paying the rent to avoid homelessness, buying your kids some "new" clothes from the thrift store or Walmart, paying the car insurance so you can drive legally to your low-wage job, buying gasoline for same. I am very, VERY tired of the assumptions of those who have money about what those who don't have money spend their limited funds on. Low income people do not spend thousands of dollars on the frivolities mentioned, because they don't have thousands of dollars to waste. Perhaps the dentist could address the difference in price between what a cash customer and an insured customer pay for the same service at his practice. How much does it cost to have a tooth filled for a cash customer versus an insured customer? What is the negotiated rate with, say, Blue Cross?

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