Poor dental health and poverty are related. Stronger teeth can lead to a better life

Emma walked four miles to the clinic. She stood before us at 19, recently homeless and seeking relief for an infected tooth. Although our limited free clinic only offered tooth extraction as a solution, she declined. Emma couldn't bear the thought of losing any more teeth. This was a pivotal moment that made me realize that we could and should do a better job of protecting our patients’ natural teeth.

The correlation between poor dental health and poverty cannot be ignored. Just last year, this “neglected epidemic” left nearly 69 million American adults without dental insurance, according to a survey by the nonprofit CareQuest Oral Health Institute. Due to financial constraints, lack of insurance, and inadequate access to affordable care, many people from disadvantaged backgrounds have difficulty accessing dental services and retaining their natural teeth. Low-income adults are twice as likely to suffer from cavities, tooth loss and gum disease, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Advocates say people without insurance often delay seeking treatment, leading to minor infections escalating into life-threatening conditions. Additionally, lack of access to dental care perpetuates poverty, as cavities and tooth loss can lead to chronic pain, missed work, and poor employment prospects. About 30 percent of low-income adults and nearly 60 percent of Medicaid recipients who lack dental services nationwide believe that the appearance of their mouths and missing teeth hinder their ability to interview for jobs.

Addressing these barriers is critical to improving overall public health and ensuring that everyone can maintain good oral hygiene and protect their natural teeth. Since May is the official “Save Your Teeth” month, now is the perfect time to emphasize the importance of dental care and protecting your natural teeth.

With the advancements in modern endodontics, patients now have a range of treatment options to choose from to save their natural teeth. Whenever possible, preserving natural teeth rather than extracting them is preferred. Imagine removing a book from a tightly packed shelf, causing the surrounding books to move. A similar phenomenon occurs with teeth. The remaining teeth gradually move into the empty space, causing an incorrect bite and crooked teeth. Patients may also have difficulty speaking, chewing, and swallowing. Often, patients overuse other teeth to replace the missing tooth, increasing the likelihood of other dental problems.

It has been four years since I met Emma, ​​and many things have changed. I am no longer a dental student, but an endodontist. I recently returned to Kansas and established my own practice in Prairie Village with the mission of improving dental care and making dental care more accessible in the community where I grew up. When I imagine my desire to provide high-quality dental care to patients in the clinic, I often think back to the day I watched Emma leave the free health clinic with a smile after I personally performed a root canal on her. That moment was incredibly gratifying, and it’s a feeling I hope to experience every day in my career dedicated to saving people’s teeth and improving their quality of life.

Mansoor Safder is an endodontist at Elite Endodontics KC in Prairie Village, Kansas.

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