A paper published in JADA explores the connection between poor oral health and reduced economic productivity in America.

A new paper published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that poor oral health reduces the economic productivity of American society by limiting participation in the workforce and increasing health care costs.

The paper, Oral Health in America: Implications for Dental Practice, provides a comprehensive assessment of changes in oral health in the more than 20 years since the Surgeon General reported on oral health in 2000.

According to the authors, despite improvements to care, there remain inequities.

“Many low-income and minority adults lack dental insurance, and as a consequence seek care only for emergency needs,” the authors write.

The paper highlights critical elements from a more extensive report, Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges, released by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Jeffrey L. Fellows, PhD, senior investigator, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Portland, Oregon, is the lead author along with four co-authors from the University of California, Los Angeles, University of the Pacific, University of Maryland, and Delta Dental of Iowa.

“It is clear that the dental safety net has expanded in this country but that expansion has not yet helped everyone in need,” according to the corresponding commentary, Facing the Future and Deciding What We Want Oral Health to Become.

The commentary appears in the same issue of JADA and is co-authored by Bruce Dye, DDS, MPH, Rena N. D’Souza, DDS, PhD, and Judith Albino, PhD, professor emerita of public health, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Data from 2001 to 2020 shows the number of people obtaining oral health care at Federally Qualified Health Centers increased from 1.4 million to 5.2 million people. In 2017, one-third of these patients were younger than 18 years. Of these patients 88.5% were Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiaries.

The study authors note that in addition to improving the delivery of oral health care in this country, the profession should act to shape the future of oral health, including making the case that oral care is an essential health care service.

The report considers factors affecting oral-care delivery, including integrating oral and medical healthcare, improving insurance coverage and financing, and considering unmet needs in dental workforce planning.

Work of both the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute and ADA Science and Research Institute was cited for valuable contributions of vital data and oral health research.

“While this report highlights that oral health is an integral part of overall health and the work of dentists in leading scientific advancements and clinical treatments that help improve patient health, we still have more work to do,” said Cesar R. Sabates, DDS, president of the ADA. “While I am encouraged to see the progress that has been made and applaud the recommendations for health professionals to work together in an interdisciplinary fashion, there is still important work to be done to address the challenges that remain, particularly when it comes to improving health equity.”

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