According to a new poll, many middle-aged Americans are experiencing oral health problems, partly because of a lack of access to preventive dentistry and partly because of their attitudes toward care.
The good news is that many of these problems can be easily overcome. However, some of the challenges are not as easy to address as others.
One in Three Americans Embarrassed by Teeth
This study looked at a nationally representative sample of Americans aged 50 to 64. Researchers just up the road at Ann Arbor Among the respondents, one in three said they were embarrassed by the condition of their teeth. About the same amount of people said that their dental problems have caused them pain, difficulty with eating, missed work, or other health problems in the previous two years.
The fact that these percentages are about the same isn’t a surprise: health and beauty go hand in hand for your teeth. If you’re not happy with the appearance of your teeth, it’s quite likely that you have oral health problems that need attention as well.
Three Types of Americans
Another finding of the survey is that Americans can be divided into three major classes based on their attitudes toward dental care. Researchers broke down respondents into these categories:
- Prevention-focused (60%): people who get regular preventive care as well as getting attention for dental problems
- Inconsistent prevention (17%): sometimes got preventive care but otherwise sought care for dental problems
- Problem-only (23%): only sought dental care for problems
Poll respondents who were female, white, and with higher income were more likely to be in the first group.
Although we’re happy to see that most Americans understand the importance of preventive care for a healthy mouth, the other groups are too large. In particular, having about a quarter of the population focused only on getting dental problems fixed is a recipe for disaster. Reacting to problems in dental care not only means your smile is unhealthy and unattractive–it means you’re probably going to end up paying much more for dental care, which no-one wants.
Cost Is a Barrier to Care
The study also revealed that many people faced cost as their major barrier to getting proper dental care. The irony of people in the problem-only group is that when they did seek care, 56% of them had to not get or delay care in the last two years. Why didn’t they get care? 69% of respondents said cost was the barrier to getting dental care. Other reasons why people didn’t get dental care? Difficulty finding time in their schedule and fear of the dentist.
People who find it difficult to get dental care should realize that dental financing is available, and can be used for expenses of $200 or more. This can make dental care affordable for everyone.