Section 1 Summary
Effect of Oral Health on the Community, Overall Well-Being, and the Economy
Oral health and disease affect all aspects of our society, from our financial well-being to our health care systems and even our ability to communicate with others. Section 1 of the NIH report Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges examines the many ways that financial interests, demographic factors, and social and cultural changes influence the oral health of individuals and communities and contribute to oral health inequities in the United States. The authors of Section 1 analyze the current health policy landscape and make policy recommendations for improving oral health, such as restricting the sale of products detrimental to oral health and for creating public-private partnerships that can ensure the delivery of essential oral health care in times of crisis.
Status of Knowledge, Practice, and Perspectives
Advances and Challenges
Promising New Directions
What are the most important takeaways about this section?
The most important takeaways are that creating optimal population oral health makes economic sense. Not dealing with the untreated dental diseases has significant impacts on the social and economic productivity of individuals and communities and are foundational to a well-functioning health care system, economy, and society. Further, we can indeed do positive things to reduce the unnecessary and unfair differences in oral health and access to dental care between individuals and groups.
What was a surprising finding?
For many they will find it surprising that oral health and dental care can have such important implications for national security. Oral disease complicates recruitment into the military – as so many recruits require dental care. This leads to delays in training and for some rejection from military service. Also – among active service members, oral disease can prevent deployment outside of the United States.
What should the American people know about this section of the report?
I think that the American people should know that poor oral health and compromised access to dental care are not about individual failings, and improvements in oral health and access to dental care are best found through legislative, system, and market solutions. We are where we are today because of deliberate policy choices made years ago. The most important one – treating dental care as an essential health benefit for kids but nobody else. We have clear evidence that seniors and adults have seen very little progress overall in the past 20 years, and that is because we have not expanded public coverage for dental care. This mismatch between professional recommendations and oral health policy reflects an attitude among policy makers that dental care for adults and seniors is not important.
What is the main call to action?
Walk the walk – Make dental care an essential benefit for adults and seniors. Realize that solutions and action must occur by focusing on the social, commercial, and political determinants of oral health and access to dental care.
Did You Know?
- Overall productivity losses in the United States associated with untreated oral disease were estimated to be $45.9 billion in 2015, with the United States ranking highest among 195 countries. See context.
- In 2018, about 66.7 million Americans had no dental coverage with a dentally uninsured rate of 2.5 times higher than the medically uninsured rate. See context.
- In 2014, there were 2.43 million emergency department visits for nontraumatic dental conditions, representing more than $1.6 billion in charges; the average charge per visit was $994 for adults and $971 for children. See context.
- During the past 20 years, dental care costs per person in the United States have increased 30%, placing access to dental care out of reach for many. See context.
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