Oral health for many people is not a topic of much concern. Most people tend to think that as long as you brush teeth daily, then you will be okay. However, the latest statistics show that the state of oral health in the country has been declining. The cause of this decline is poor dental hygiene habits and the low number of dentists in the United States. There has been a rising concern about the declining number of dentists. Even in Los Angeles for instance, dentists in Montebello are not enough to serve the growing population.

The decrease in the number of dentists is because more dentists are retiring each year than there are new graduates to replace them. Most of the new graduates prefer to work in affluent areas as most of them are struggling to get an income while still paying off their student loans. The result is a low number of dentists for the low-income areas which come to be called Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA). HPSAs according to the Human Resources and Services Administration are regions with a doctor-to-patient ratio of more than 5,000:1. It also includes areas correctional facilities with a doctor-to-patient ratio of more than 4,000:1. They are places that have no dental healthcare whatsoever.

In the United States, there are a total of 4,593 HPSAs or as some may call them, ‘dental deserts’. These have a population totaling more than 45,086,834 people. In addition to that, there is also an undeserved population of 30,605,273.

The largest population living in HSPAs is in the state of Mississippi. 60% of the population live in HPSAs. Louisiana follows closely with 46% of their population residing in HPSAs followed by New Mexico with 33%. New Jersey and Nebraska have the lowest population of people living in HPSAs with 0.081% and 0.27% respectively.

However as mentioned above the cause of declining oral health cannot be attributed only to the number of dentists in a region. The nation’s dental practices is also a major contributor. For instance the Ad Council released a report saying that less than half of all the parents in America said that their kids brush teeth twice a day. The result is that majority of our children have poor oral health with about 16 million children affected by tooth decay.

However what is a grave concern is the fact that oral disease is common in the low-income neighborhoods. Children from these disadvantaged communities have twice the number of untreated decayed teeth than their peers in high-income areas. However, this is not a fact confined to dental health alone. People from low-income neighborhoods are on average less healthy than those living in affluent areas. They also tend to suffer more from terminal illnesses like cancer and heart-related diseases. The US government has desperately tried to combat with initiatives like Obamacare.

Minorities like Hispanics and African Americans tend to suffer most from this injustice with 41% of Hispanic children suffering from tooth decay while 37% for African American children. It is clear that if we are to address the nation’s oral hygiene problem, then we first have to combat income inequality.

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January 2019
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