top 5 oral health stories of 2014

Check out our top 5 oral health stories of 2014!

Progress is the name of the game in most health-related fields, and 2014 witnessed quite a bit of progress around oral health. We’ve rounded up our list of the top 5 oral health stories of 2014 and summarized them for you with links to more information below.

Happy reading – and Happy New Year!

#5: Researchers link reduced risk of respiratory infections in intensive care patients to proper dental care.

In October, ScienceDaily reported on new research that showed “vulnerable patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) who received enhanced oral care from a dentist were at significantly less risk for developing a lower respiratory tract infection.”

…having a dentist provide weekly care as part the ICU team may improve outcomes for vulnerable patients…

“Bacteria causing healthcare-associated infections often start in the oral cavity,” said Fernando Bellissimo-Rodrigues, MD, lead author of the study. “This study suggests that having a dentist provide weekly care as part the ICU team may improve outcomes for vulnerable patients in this setting.”

Material for the story was provided by Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

#4: The risk of pneumonia doubles for elderly who sleep with their dentures.

Do you know an elderly person who wears dentures? Here’s some news they absolutely need to hear:

“Poor oral health and hygiene are increasingly recognized as major risk factors for pneumonia among the elderly,” ScienceDaily reported in October.

The article highlighted research that showed “swallowing difficulties and overnight denture wearing were independently associated with approximately 2.3-fold higher risk of the incidence of pneumonia, which was comparable with the high risk attributable to cognitive impairment, history of stroke and respiratory disease.”

…overnight denture wearing associated with higher risk of pneumonia…

“This study provides empirical evidence that denture wearing during sleep is associated not only with oral inflammatory and microbial burden but also with incident pneumonia, suggesting potential implications of oral hygiene programs for pneumonia prevention in the community,” the researchers said.

#3: The future of dental care will include genetic techniques.

Since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2007, epigenetics has had an increasing role in biological and medical research according to Associate Professor Toby Hughes of the University of Adelaide. As a result, dental care is almost certain to include genetic techniques one day soon.

What’s most exciting is the possibility of screening for potential oral health problems from an early age…

“We now have the potential to develop an epigenetic profile of a patient, and use all three of these factors to provide a more personalized level of care,” Hughes said. “What’s most exciting is the possibility of screening for many of these potential oral health problems from an early age so that we can prevent them or reduce their impact.”

The research, by University of Adelaide, was reported in March by ScienceDaily.

#2: Athletes’ oral health problems “must be addressed.”

Are you looking for a competitive edge in 2015? Maybe you should step up your oral hygiene regimen.

“Oral health could be an easy win for athletes, as the oral conditions that can affect performance are all easily preventable,” says Professor Ian Needleman of the Eastman Dental Institute, University College London.

…better tooth brushing techniques and higher fluoride toothpastes could…make the crucial difference between gold and silver.

“Simple strategies to prevent oral health problems can offer marginal performance gains that require little to no additional time or money. Things like better tooth brushing techniques and higher fluoride toothpastes could prevent the toothache and associated sleeping and training difficulties that can make the crucial difference between gold and silver.”

ScienceDaily’s article about the University College London statement was published on October. “Oral health problems in elite athletes ‘must be addressed’.”

#1: Dental hygiene pros are poised to help improve access to oral health care across the US.

Support continues to build for dental therapists. Although this developing story has met with far less media attention than the other stories on our list, various ongoing efforts by the dental hygiene profession get our vote for the top oral health story of 2014.

“Societal, economic, political, and health care factors have converged to create a ‘perfect storm’ of unprecedented possibilities for improved access to oral health care and growth for dental hygienists,” wrote Terri Tilliss, RDH, PhD, of the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. Tilliss was introducing the Annual Report on Dental Hygiene, a special issue of The Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice (JEBDP). The special issue was the focus of an article ScienceDaily published in June.

…the potential of dental therapy education programs deserves quickly adopted, reasonable accreditation standards.

In documents filed with the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in late November, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both shared their beliefs that “the potential of dental therapy education programs deserved quickly adopted, reasonable accreditation standards…”.

According to a report about the ADHA and FTC filings, which was published in December by DentistryIQ, CODA will meet in February 2015 to consider proposed standards for dental therapist education programs, which is fantastic news for the millions of Americans without easy access to oral health care today.

What do you think? Weigh in on our choices for the top 5 oral health stories of 2014, or let us know what you would have included in the Reply section below!

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From all of us at DentalInsurance.com, we hope you have a happy and healthy 2015!

Would you let someone other than a dentist fill a tooth or perform an “uncomplicated” extraction? Sounds like a job for a dentist, doesn’t it? After all, dentists in the US have met very high educational and licensing requirements, and well – it’s your mouth we’re talking about.

Sadly, millions across the country don’t even have the choice. Why?

The US dentist shortage

Dental therapists could help solve the US dentist shortage.

People in rural parts of many states are coping with poor access to oral care providers, often by putting off or doing without necessary dental care.

In many parts of the nation, there is an uneven distribution of dentists, which is having serious consequences. A new dental school was opened in Maine in 2013. One of its missions? To “reverse the shortage of dentists in rural parts of the state, a trend that is expected to worsen,” NBC News San Diego reported

And Maine is hardly alone. People in rural parts of many states are coping with the dearth of dentists as well as they can, often by putting off or doing without necessary dental care.

Kaiser Health News reported early last year that 16% of Americans live in areas with an insufficient number of dentists. Federal guidelines, according to Kaiser, call for one dentist to every 5,000 people.

Here’s another way of looking at it: Approximately 45 million people in the US reside in areas that are experiencing a dentist shortage. And where there’s a shortage, it’s very hard to get dental care regardless of income or insurance.

Free dental care events

Dentists are working to address the problem. Though they may not be able to be in every neighborhood across the country, thousands of dentists each year give their time and resources to provide free dental care to those in need.

In addition to individual dental practices that open their doors to those in need, state and national dental associations, organizations like Remote Area Medical and Mission of Mercy, and many private donors work tirelessly to provide free dental care events. One such event was held in Seattle in October. It helped nearly 2,000 people over four days, according to The Seattle Times. In New York, however, city authorities cancelled a similar event in November citing public health concerns.

And remember, many of these types of events are not just about providing care for the uninsured. Across the US, insured and uninsured alike lack easy access to dental care due to the shortage or uneven distribution of dentists.

Dental therapists or mid-level dental practitioners

Dental care must be provided by licensed practitioners. But today, there are simply too few dentists to meet the needs in many parts of the country.

Even with more dental schools, future access to basic oral care isn’t guaranteed. In fact, the problem may grow worse. That’s because new dentists are more likely than ever to specialize. In 2012, the number of active, newly licensed dentists who were specialists was up 6% over 2008, NBC San Diego reported.

One possible cure for America’s dentist shortage may be on the horizon. There is a growing movement to create a new “mid-level” type of dental practitioner called a dental therapist. Proponents of this plan say dental therapists can help to increase care and free up dentists to do other, more critical work.

In most states today, dentists alone are able to do certain dental procedures, like fillings and “uncomplicated” extractions. That is changing, however. Dental therapists have been providing mid-level procedures in Alaska for the past 10 years.

Minnesota and Maine have recently approved the use of these mid-level dental practitioners. In addition, legislation around the use of dental therapists is being considered in California, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington.

Dental therapists are highly trained health care professionals. They typically are selected from their home communities, educated and then return to serve their communities…

In an opinion piece in favor of considering dental therapists in New Mexico, which was published by the Santa Fe New Mexican, Howard Rhoads, DDS explains, “Dental therapists are highly trained health care professionals. They typically are selected from their home communities, educated and then return to serve their communities…. They don’t do everything a dentist does, but they provide many of the most commonly needed services, starting with dental education, simple fillings and non-surgical extractions.”

Community Catalyst, a national, non-profit consumer advocacy organization, released a report in 2013 that found that where they are allowed, dental therapists are not only increasing access to dental care for children and low-income adults, they are also helping to reduce costs for dental practices.

Retail to the rescue?

Walmart continues to open health clinics within its retail locations, as NBCNews reported in August 2014. Some people predict that they or another big-box chain will eventually open in-store clinics that will offer dental services to underserved areas.

Walmart did try opening dental clinics in stores back in 2012. However, the company was sued over the idea in 2013.

In any event, for the idea of dental clinics in big-box stores to succeed on a national level, a retailer would still need to lure dentists to work in areas of the country that they have traditionally avoided – or fill many positions with a different type of oral care provider, such as a dental therapist.

Need for accreditation standards

Dental therapists are a reality today, but their use is out of the question in most of the country. Educational programs like the one at the University of Washington, which prepares dental therapists for work in Alaska, have set their own high standards for the therapists they train. For more states to open their doors to these mid-level practitioners, the next hurdle to overcome is the adoption of national standards for accreditation.

…the potential of dental therapy education programs deserved quickly adopted, reasonable accreditation standards…

In documents filed with the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in late November, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both shared their beliefs that “the potential of dental therapy education programs deserved quickly adopted, reasonable accreditation standards…”. CODA will meet in February to consider proposed standards for dental therapy education programs.

Now, back to our original question: Would you let someone other than a dentist fill a tooth or perform an extraction? If so, do you feel more states should follow Alaska, Minnesota, and Maine and approve the use of dental therapists? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sources and recommended reading:

dental anxiety and kids

Some dentists are great at putting kids at ease.

Unfortunately, not every kid with dental phobia can be put at ease by a dentist who dresses up as the tooth fairy. And not every father has the comic skill and parental panache to turn Hermie’s horrifying dentistry in the 1964 animated TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” into a lesson on the importance of proper dental hygiene.

(Who can ever forget the “misfit” elf brandishing those gruesome pliers after extracting the Abominable Snow Monster’s teeth?)

Dental phobia or fear is, of course, no laughing matter. But there is a great deal that parents, caregivers and dentists can do – and are doing – to help kids get through the experience of a trip to the dentist with a smile.

Let’s take a look at some of the most effective interventions for dealing with dental fear in children.

What’s the most effective treatment of dental phobia in children?  

As in so many things in life, when it comes to kids and fear of the dentist, good communication is key.

Parents, caregivers and dentists all have a role to play in setting the stage for not only a good first visit to the dentist’s office, but a lifelong commitment to regular, professional dental care without fear and anxiety. How we frame those initial experiences with words can be very important.

Before the first trip to the dentist

To help ensure things go well during the first visit, your dentist may provide you with some “dos” and “don’ts” in advance. Things like, when talking to kids about the dentist and what goes on during a visit to the dentist’s office, avoid using words like “hurt,” “pain,” “shot,” and other words that have a negative or fearful connotation.

Rule of thumb: only say things that are positive.

Also, experts recommend parents answer children’s questions about the dentist, but, they suggest, don’t go into a lot of unnecessary detail. Be brief. If you don’t know the answer, or if the answer is a little on the complex side, suggest that you and your child save the question for, who else? The dentist. After all, they’re the ones who have years of training and a lot of practice talking to kids about what they do in non-threatening, kid-friendly ways.

…answer children’s questions about the dentist, but don’t go into a lot of unnecessary detail.

Above all, never tell kids about the time you had a terrible (or even unpleasant) time at the dentist. Instead, be sure they understand how important it is to take good care of their teeth. Let them know the dentist and dental office staff members are nice, friendly folks who enjoy helping people, both big and small, be as healthy and happy as they can be.

At the dentist’s office

Even if you’ve done your best to prepare your child for their new experience, it’s not uncommon, and it’s completely natural, for kids to be afraid sometimes. Some kids detest spiders. Others won’t go near a clown. Whether a child cries or throws a temper tantrum, any dentist who regularly works with children will have an array of techniques at her fingertips to put kids more at ease.

Again, in many cases it comes down to good communication. Many dentists who work with kids are quite adept at regulating their tone of voice, so that they are able to go from warm and comforting to gently commanding as the circumstances dictate.

Some dentists use a technique called “show, tell, and do.” It’s a way to explain, step by step, what tools the dentist is using, how they’re used, and what the dentist is going to do next. Pediatric dentists are also trained to use language that’s appropriate for the kids they work with, and there’s a good chance yours will use kid-friendly props – such as a giant tooth or doll – to show your kids what they’re about to do.

Distraction is another communication skill that dentists use to put kids at ease.

Distraction is another communication skill that dentists use to put kids at ease. Telling stories or having a conversation can help dentists focus kids’ attention somewhere other than on the procedure itself. And when needed, most dentists know that when it comes to kids’ behaviors, simple body language can go a long way toward accentuating the positive and discouraging, if not eliminating, the negative.

What can you do if nothing seems to help?

In some instances, it may take more than clever communication to help your child get through their time in the chair. In such cases, a dentist may recommend that a child use safe and effective medications such as nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) during their visit or take an oral sedative beforehand.

Finally, if you or your dentist feel your child’s fear of going to the dentist is extreme or out of control, therapy may be the answer. Therapeutic techniques, including psychotherapy (exploring the source of the fear), cognitive behavioral therapy (practicing practical strategies for dealing with it), and hypnotherapy, may help a child overcome their fears so they can receive and maintain the professional dental care they deserve.

Everyone is afraid of something. Learning how to face our fears is part of growing up.

Everyone is afraid of something. Learning how to face our fears is part of growing up. And you may be surprised. One day, a young adult who was frightened by a routine dental exam, teeth cleaning, or other dental procedure as a child just may decide that they, like Rudolph’s nerdy buddy Hermie, want to be a dentist.

Have you helped a child get past their fear of the dentist? What worked for you? Post your tips or a comment in the Reply section below!

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Find a dentist that’s right for you.

Use these tips to find a dentist that’s right for you.

With something as important as choosing a dentist, it’s vital you make a well-informed choice. Glowing recommendations from friends and family are certainly a big help if you’re searching for any type of service provider. But you should look for other things in a dentist.

First, there are some purely practical considerations. Things like the dentist’s location. Will it be convenient for you to visit them whether you’re coming from home or from work? Location may not be an option, but if it is, and if you will need frequent care, it may make a difference.

If you need to schedule an appointment on the weekend or in the evening, will the dentist be available? Are the waiting room, office space, furnishings and equipment clean and well maintained? The answers to these types of questions can help narrow your final selection, especially if you have a large number of options.

Preventive Oral Health 

Beyond these types of practical considerations, there are number of other questions you can ask that will help you make the best choice.

Don’t think of the dentist simply as someone who can restore oral health.

At its most basic, oral health comes down to prevention and restoration. Don’t think of the dentist simply as someone who can restore oral health. Instead, see your dentist as someone who can help you understand and practice good oral health prevention strategies.

A caring dentist will take the time to explain the preventive techniques needed to keep you in the best oral health. In addition, the dentist should draw your attention to any problem areas that may be developing and provide specific instructions – and, if needed, a plan – for how to deal with the areas in question.

Emergency Dental Services

While it’s very important, prevention is only one part of good oral care. What will happen, though, if you have a dental emergency? Will the dentist see you right away if you break a tooth? What if the dentist is out of the office or on vacation?

Many dentists do make special arrangements…

Many dentists do make special arrangements, so if they’re unavailable when emergencies happen, their patients will still receive the timely care they need. That’s not always the case though. Be sure you understand a prospective dentist’s emergency procedures before you really need them.

Treatment Fees and Payment Plans

Finally, before you choose a dentist, you’ll want to find out whether specific information about treatment fees and the dentist’s payment plan is provided to patients before treatment is scheduled.

If you have dental insurance, you may need to determine whether the dentist participates in your plan. With certain types of dental insurance, pretreatment authorization for services may be required. Even if you don’t have insurance, most dentists will be happy to discuss the fees for needed services and the ways you can plan to pay.

You should never put off needed dental treatment. However, be sure to take the time you need to find the dentist that’s right for you.

Is there anything you would add to this list? Let us know in a comment below!

To learn more about dental insurance plans and dental terminology, visit the Resources section.

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Way back in 1964, a man named Van Kelsey, who had started selling life insurance door-to-door in the late 1940s, founded Kelsey National Corporation (KNC). This year, KNC is proud to be celebrating its golden anniversary – 50 years of experience and innovation in the US insurance industry.

Why are we bringing this up? Well, KNC is the parent organization of DentalInsurance.com, and if it weren’t for Van’s entrepreneurial spirit all those years ago, we wouldn’t be around today.

50 Years of Change in the US Benefits Industry

Much has changed in the US insurance industry over the past 50 years.

Much has changed in the US insurance industry over the past 50 years.

But there’s another reason we think Kelsey’s achievement is worthy of note. It serves as a timely reminder of just how much has really changed in the way insurance products are created and sold.

A great deal has changed in the US insurance industry over the past half century, and KNC has been on the front lines of this transformation. For example, Van Kelsey was among the first to see the advantages of providing group insurance plans to businesses, an insight he soon translated into a successful bid to provide group benefits to the members of local, state, and eventually national insurance associations.

In fact, KNC and the US insurance industry have matured side by side over the course of the last 50 years. During this time, the concept of single carrier solutions for employee groups has disappeared. The internet and digital technologies have enabled multi-carrier comparison tools, and companies like KNC continue to perfect this concept.

Insurance options for individual consumers, not just employers

Today, sites like those run by KNC (DentalInsurance.com is just one of them) are able to provide a vast range of insurance choices directly to consumers, something that was barely imaginable when Van R. Kelsey Sr. founded the company in the ‘60s.

Over the course of its history, KNC has built an impressive legacy. That includes extensive experience building online dental, health, vision, and other types of insurance marketplaces. And those marketplaces are no longer just for employers, benefit consulting houses, or large associations. They are directly serving individual consumers as well, without the need for intermediaries.

Decades of innovation, growth, and change

Van led KNC for thirty years until 1994. Then, his son, Mark Kelsey, took over the reins. Much as his father had identified opportunities for the insurance industry during the post-WWII era, Mark’s Presidency tapped the potential for online technologies and ecommerce.

With Mark at the helm, KNC developed its broad range of consumer-oriented insurance web sites. These include HealthInsurance.com, which helps empower small businesses and individuals to make informed health insurance decisions. And, of course, there’s this site, DentalInsurance.com, KNC’s online exchange platform for dental insurance and discount dental plan comparison shopping.

Earlier this year, Avery Smith, who had served as KNC’s Director of Business Development for the past 7 years, was appointed as the third President in Kelsey’s history. As the US health, dental, and vision insurance industries continue to evolve, Avery has many strategic plans for the future of KNC. These include expanding the company’s self-service exchange-type offerings for consumers.

Empowering individuals through new technologies

“This is the most exciting time for the insurance industry in 50 years,” Smith says. “The empowerment of the individual through new technologies is changing not only the industry and our company but people’s lives.”

The empowerment of the individual through new technologies is changing not only the industry and our company but people’s lives…

Looking to the future, KNC will continue to focus on creating easy-to-use insurance shopping and comparison tools for individuals, families, and retirees. With half a century of solid successes behind us, we’re more dedicated than ever to delivering first-rate services and experiences that keep customers – like you – coming back.

Thank you!

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