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 wellcommons.com 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.