5 factors contributing to poor dental health in the US, according to 1 dentist

A lack of universal healthcare, accessibility barriers and several other factors are leading to poor oral health in the U.S., according to Steven Edwards, DDS.

Dr. Edwards is the president of Renuzoral, a dental product company. He recently spoke to Becker's to discuss the state of oral health in the U.S. after the country was left out of Insider Monkey's recent ranking of the top 15 countries for dental health. 

To create its ranking, Insider Monkey used data on the number of dentistry personnel per 10,000 people from the United Nations’ Statistics Division. To view the full ranking, click here.

Note: This response was lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Question: How do you think the U.S. dental industry compares to other countries? What factors could have contributed to the U.S. being left out of the ranking?

Dr. Steven Edwards: 

Lack of universal healthcare: The United States does not have a universal healthcare system, which means that not all individuals have equal access to dental care. Dental services can be expensive, and those without adequate insurance coverage or financial resources may struggle to afford necessary dental treatments. Dental insurance in the U.S. is a travesty. It's a bad joke. It's a waste of time and money. It hasn't improved since I started clinical dentistry in 1986. We should focus on universal dental education and prevention of dental problems in the first place. Eighty percent of the most common dental problems are easily preventable by just doing a few things right a few times a day, every day, just like going to the bathroom or eating.

Disparities in access to care: Disparities in access to dental care exist within the U.S. Rural areas and underserved communities may have a shortage of dental professionals and limited access to dental clinics. This can make it challenging for some individuals to receive regular dental check-ups and treatments. Dentists need to make money to repay their student loans. It's hard to make money in rural areas, low socioeconomic areas, wilderness, etc. Access to care is much less important than prevention and understanding just two diseases: cavities and gum disease. Even when people have access to care, and they obtain care, they still must understand how to prevent future dental problems.

Emphasis on treatment over prevention: The U.S. healthcare system often focuses on treatment rather than prevention. While there are preventive measures in place, such as community water fluoridation and dental sealant programs, there may be less emphasis on oral health education and preventive measures compared to countries with strong public health initiatives. Everywhere I've worked, and I've worked in 32 offices, the focus has been on production, never prevention. Never education. People come into dental offices as dental illiterates and they leave as dental illiterates. Then they complain that they still get cavities and gum disease. They should be complaining that dentists don't educate them.

Dietary habits: The typical American diet, which can be high in sugar, processed foods and sugary beverages, can contribute to dental health issues such as tooth decay and gum disease. Poor dietary habits, coupled with less emphasis on oral health education, can impact overall dental health.

Oral health awareness: Oral health awareness and education may vary among individuals in the U.S. While some people prioritize regular dental check-ups and practice good oral hygiene, others may not be aware of the importance of preventive measures or may not have received sufficient education on oral health practices. Most of my new patients have no idea that tooth decay is actually a disease. They think it's caused by sugar. They often ask me why they still get decay despite not eating candy and avoiding soft drinks. They don't know that even salty foods or non-sweet foods such as pretzels, chips, rice, potatoes or pasta can still feed the germs that cause decay. Even worse, most people don't know what gum disease is. Worst of all, most people don't know how to brush their teeth nor clean between their teeth effectively. Most people have never heard of xylitol. Dental literacy in the U.S. is atrociously bad.

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