February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and a new report on 2023’s States with the Best & Worst Dental Health, shows where the best places are in the country for dental health and California ranks ninth.
To determine where people have the healthiest teeth and gums in the U.S., WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 26 key metrics. The data set ranges from the share of adolescents who visited a dentist in the past year to dental treatment costs to dentists per capita.
Dental Health in California (1=Best; 25=Avg.):
38th – % of Adolescents Who Visited a Dentist in the Past Year
32nd – % Of Adults Who Visited a Dentist in the Past Year
41st – Dental Treatment Costs
16th – Dentists per Capita
18th – Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption
51st – % of Adults Who Experienced Oral Pain in the Past Year
23rd – % of Adults with Low Life Satisfaction Due to Their Oral Condition
Tips to Maintain Dental Health Without Big Costs
“Since many people in the United States do not have dental insurance, getting quality dental care for an affordable price is a necessity, especially for underserved populations. For economical dental care, people should investigate dental hygiene and dental schools in their area. The dental hygiene and dental students in these schools provide high-quality care, overseen by licensed dental hygiene and dental educators, at an affordable cost that is often about 10% of what a private dental office charges. Secondly, people should investigate if they have a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC) in their vicinity. These Federal facilities offer care on a sliding fee scale, meaning those with lower incomes pay less for dental services. Thirdly, people can investigate if their state participates in Mission of Mercy (MOM) events, where thousands of people receive free dental treatment each year. These clinics offered a few times a year, typically at large convention centers, provide services such as dental x-rays, cleanings, extractions, fillings, root canals, and dentures, for no cost,” said Marie R. Paulis, RDH, MSDH, assistant professor; Dental Hygiene Program Director, University of New Haven.
“Many options for caring for oral health do not involve spending a lot of money. One thing to keep in mind to minimize caries (decay) risk, is to keep exposures to a minimum. In other words, if you want a soda or a sweet treat, eat it with a meal rather than take it in for several hours. If you are not able to brush after a meal or a snack, chew gum. This will stimulate saliva and help raise the pH of the mouth back up to a less threatening level faster, which will keep the hard tissues of the teeth healthier. Chewing gum with xylitol is even more effective in reducing the risk of decay,” said Carissa Regnerus, RDH BSDH MA, associate professor; lead clinic director of dental hygiene, University of South Dakota.
School Sealant Programs in Low-income Areas
“Sealant programs create smoother and more easily cleanable surfaces and prevent decay. It is a great way to prevent dental disease, however, it is not the only way. Low-income areas tend to be ‘food deserts’ meaning it is easy to access take-outs and candy but harder to access fruits, vegetables, and grocery stores. Good nutrition is also an important part of oral health. Another inexpensive public health measure that has a huge impact is simple patient education that helps them accomplish excellent home care processes. I.e., Teaching kids and adults how to brush and floss effectively! Remember that dental decay and gum disease is, essentially, completely preventable. I would still recommend sealants but want to be clear that multiple approaches are needed to address the risk factors in low-income areas,” said Romesh P. Nalliah, DDS, MHCM, associate dean for Patient Services and Clinical Professor of Dentistry, University of Michigan.
“Individuals living in low socioeconomic status have statistically shown that they have barriers to care, often cannot afford treatment, and generally do not have the appropriate oral health aids for home use. Lack of professional dental visits in combination with poor regular dental hygiene will increase one’s risk for developing cavities or other oral health issues. A sealant is a dental material that is flowed into the grooves of the teeth making them shallower and easier to maintain/clean. Sealants are a wonderful option for children because they are quick, do not require drilling (do not alter the original tooth integrity), and prevent decay from forming. School sealant programs should be extended more aggressively across the country to increase access to preventative dentistry. When sealants are applied to molar teeth, dental professionals generally see a reduction in decay by about 50-80%. More children attend a public school regularly compared to biannual dental visits, so integrating preventative dental care into school programs will save time, and money and provide a therapeutic benefit for the children,” said Lauren Durell, IPDH MSDH, assistant professor, University of New England.
Making Dental Health Care Affordable
“To make dental care more affordable, prevention is key. By flossing, brushing, rinsing, and decreasing simple carbohydrate intake and sticky foods, people are less likely to experience costly dental problems. It is less expensive to get the recommended 2-4 dental cleanings per year than to fix tooth problems, like decay, missing teeth, and gum disease. Furthermore, we need to educate people about less expensive options available to them, like seeking services at schools or Federally Qualified Health Centers. In addition, new provider models, such as the dental therapist, as being implemented across the country. A dental therapist is a dental provider with skills between that of a dental hygienist and a dentist, and they can place fillings and prescribe antibiotics. The dental therapist is helping to address the public health need for dental care. Dental providers, like Federally Qualified Health Centers, can hire a dental therapist for less cost than a dentist, thereby offering more providers to those who need it most for the less overall cost to the facility. By providing quality care when people need it, more advanced and costly dental problems can be avoided,” Paulis said.
“One way would be to implement more school sealant programs and increase public health initiatives that reduce decay. Additionally, ensuring dental professionals such as dental hygienists are allowed to practice to the fullest extent of their education. There is a shortage of dentists globally, and further utilizing the skills of a dental hygienist could help address both access to care as well as affordability. If a dental hygienist were allowed to achieve direct reimbursement in more areas, he or she could help drive costs down as well as oral disease rates, Regnerus said.