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Paying for Good Dental Care: Can You?

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Paying for Good Dental Care: Can You?

Paying for Good Dental Care: Can You?

November 12, 2007

By: Jean Johnson for Dental1











Take Action
Tips on Sugar and Teeth:

  • Sugar destroys tooth enamel which makes teeth susceptible to decay.

  • Try to avoid sugary snacks and soft drinks between meals.

  • Brush your teeth after meals for at least 2 minutes

  • If you must snack on sugary foods and drinks, brush your teeth or at the very least rinse your mouth.

  • Floss daily to keep invisible plaque from collecting on your teeth.


  • On one hand, dentist’s fees are rising faster than inflation. On the other, newly released data from the Center for Disease Control for the years 2003 and 2004 show over a quarter of U.S. children and almost 30 percent of adults had untreated cavities. “The level of untreated decay was the highest since the late 1980s and significantly higher than that found in a survey from 1999 to 2002,” observed the NYT, to provide some historical perspective.


    Despite the figures, the American Dental Association (ADA) is staunchly opposed to using technicians for what they term “irreversible surgical procedures” like filling cavities and extracting teeth. But maintaining strict adherence to the highest medical standards might not be a workable trade-off for the underserved. Ron Nagel, DDS, MPH, who helped establish a technician program in Alaska to treat Native children living at points distant, told the NYT that, “There’s never been a dentist in these rural areas.”


    But living in remote areas is only half the problem; money is the other. Kathleen Roth, DDS, and current president of the ADA, shifts the blame to Medicaid. “Access to dental care, especially for children, has been a growing problem for 10 years,” she said. “State and federal programs have decreased the amount of dollars available.”


    The ADA is also opposed to enlarging the number of dental programs in the United States, noting that it does not see a current shortage and also does not want to return to the 1980s when too many dentists were graduated. “It’s common knowledge that dentists make a stunner of a living,” said Luke Dillon, a house painter in Los Angeles. “I didn’t realize, though, that they’re incomes were going faster than inflation.” Economist Morris M. Kleiner, PhD of the University of Minnesota concurs. “Dentists make more than doctors,” he told the NYT. “If I had a kid going into the sciences, I’d tell them to become a dentist.”


    Dillion added that, “Ultra-high rates really do seem rather grasping on the side of the dentists. At the same time, people have to take responsibility for their health. These days it seems as though every kid was born with a pop can in her hand. How good is that for your teeth?”


    Where the answer lies is most likely in the middle of this debate between soaring dentist incomes and a considerable chunk of the population walking around with cavities in their teeth. Permitting dental technicians to practice within the continental United States as they now do in Alaska and elsewhere around the globe might ease the problem created by supply and demand. Raising awareness in the population about how sugary drinks and foods affect tooth enamel might also help. In the mean time, growing into adulthood with all of one’s teeth intact might be a privilege only Americans in the upper two-thirds of the economic hierarchy can look forward to.

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