ADA oral health optThe American Dental Association (ADA) today announced a nationwide campaign aimed at “boldly” addressing the dental health crisis in the United States. The campaign—Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference—aims to reduce the numbers of adults and children with untreated dental disease, through oral health education, prevention, and providing treatment now to people in need of care.

New data, gathered by Harris Interactive and released today by the ADA, shows that the need is clear. The study confirmed a dental divide in America:

  • Nearly half of lower-income adults say they haven’t seen a dentist in a year or longer, while the vast majority of middle- and higher-income wage earners (70%) have.
  • Lower-income adults 18 and older are more than two times as likely as middle- and higher-income adults to have had all of their teeth removed (7% versus 3%).
  • Nearly one in five (18%) lower-income adults have reported that they or a household member has sought treatment for dental pain in an emergency room at some point in their lives, compared to only 7% of middle- and higher-income adults.
  • Only 6% of those low-income adults who went to the ER reported that the problem was solved.
  • Even though the Affordable Care Act offers little relief for adult Americans who lack dental coverage, 40% of lower-income adults believe that health care reform will help them obtain dental care.

According to the ADA, the survey’s findings echo prior research from multiple sources. A new ADA Health Policy Resources Center analysis of 2010 MEPS and US Census data shows that 181 million Americans did not visit the dentist in 2010. Nearly half of adults over age 30 suffer from some form of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and nearly one in four children under the age of 5 already have cavities.

The ADA’s Action for Dental Health is national and coordinated in its scope and approach, and is designed to address the dental health crisis in three distinct areas:

Provide care now to people suffering with untreated disease

  • Reduce by 35 percent by 2020 the number of people who visit the emergency room for dental conditions, by referring them to community health centers, private dental practices or other settings, where they can receive proper dental care.
  • Implement in at least 10 states by 2015 a long-term care program to improve the oral health of nursing home residents.
  • Expand the ADA Give Kids A Smile local community programs to provide education, screening and treatment to underserved children in order to achieve the vision statement of Give Kids a Smile: the elimination of cavities in children under five by 2020.

Strengthen and expand the public/private safety net to provide more care to more Americans

  • Help provide more care to people by having private-practice dentists contract with Federally Qualified Health Centers, therefore increasing the number patients receiving oral health services 175% by 2020.
  • Fight for increased dental health protections and simplified administration under Medicaid by increasing by 10% the number of states that have streamlined their credentialing process to less than one month.

Bring dental health education and disease prevention into communities

  • Ensure that 80% of Americans on public water systems have access to optimally fluoridated drinking water by 2020.
  • Increase from seven to 15 the number of states where Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHCs) are active by 2015. CDHCs provide dental education and prevention services to the community and help people navigate the dental health system.

“We need to remember that every infant is born cavity-free,” said Robert A. Faiella, DMD, MMSc, president of the ADA. “The key for both kids and adults to maintain their dental health is effective prevention.  That’s why we’re increasing our awareness efforts in schools and underserved communities.  By working to ensure all Americans understand the connection between their dental and overall health, we can begin to solve this crisis.”