February 21, 2018

Dental Inequality in America

In this blog, we’ve often looked at the ways oral health and overall health go hand in hand. However, the effects go beyond physical well-being. Doing without dental care can also have economic effects. So, in this post we’ll look at some of the implications of dental inequality in America.

The lack of coverage for dental care, “can be bad news not only for people’s overall well-being, but also for their ability to find and keep a job,” according to Austin Frakt. Frakt is associate professor with Boston University’s School of Public Health.

He is also director of the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System. Frakt shared his insights in a recent edition of the New York Times.

Some Ways Dental Inequality Hurts Americans

The implications of dental inequality in America include social and employment disparities.

The implications of dental inequality in America include social and employment disparities.

In an article titled, How Dental Inequality Hurts Americans, Frakt states: “both in social settings and in finding employment,” people look down on others who have bad teeth. The author cites a number of studies that show how people judge others based on their oral health.

For example, in research into the “social meanings of dental appearance,” scientists looked at “the effect of tooth appearance on the development of a first impression.” The researchers concluded that we place greater importance on tooth appearance in the opposite sex than when we evaluate others of our own sex.

Of course, these findings have important implications in the area of employment and job security. Consider a report published by the American Dental Association (ADA), Oral Health & Well-Being in the United States. It sums up “data on self-reported oral health status.”

According to Frakt, the ADA report found that for “about one-third of adults with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty level…the appearance of their teeth and mouth affected their ability to interview for a job.” On the other hand, Frakt writes, “only 15 percent of adults with incomes above 400 percent of the poverty level feel that way.”

Dental Inequality: Supporting Evidence

Other evidence indirectly sheds light on the ways dental inequality hurts Americans. While researching water fluoridation, for example, researchers found this practice affects income. Women with access to fluoridated water enjoyed 4 percent higher income on average. In addition, women with lower socioeconomic status saw this effect to an even greater extent, Frakt writes.

Moreover, in a study from Brazil, researchers found that people judged others with dental problems as less intelligent. In addition, the research subjects  judged people with dental problems as less suitable for hiring, Frakt writes.

The Wide-Ranging Benefits of Oral Health

Oral health affects our overall well being, including physical, mental, and economic health

Oral health affects our overall well being, including physical, mental, and economic health

Clearly, the benefits of seeing your dentist every six months go far beyond simply having healthier, better-looking teeth. Oral health affects our overall well being, including physical, mental, and economic health.

The truth is, it’s easier to do anything from make a big sale to make a new friend when you have an attractive smile. Our appearance and employment are based on our ability to smile with confidence. In fact, it’s essential in some professions that require people to have good oral health.

Read Next: 5 Positive Oral Health Benefits

Sources:

How Dental Inequality Hurts Americans, by Austin Frakt; nytimes.com, February 2018.

At First Glance: Social Meanings of Dental Appearance, by Eli, Bar-Tat, and Kostovetski; Journal of Public Health Dentistry, September 2001.

Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States, by Health Policy Institute and the American Dental Association.

The Economic Value of Teeth, by Sherry Glied and Matthew Neidell; The Journal of Human Resources, March 2010.

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