It’s no secret that the United States has had a problem with healthcare for many years now. Everything from access to a general practitioner to eye and dental care has been severely limited for lower-income Americans.
Even now with a boom in insured individuals, many Americans still struggle to find affordable dental care. Why is it that a society with one of the strongest economies in the world has an issue making sure its citizens have adequate healthcare?
While it is true that dentistry is a profitable industry, one of the main reasons a visit to the dentist is so expensive are the massive overhead costs involved with running the business. Rent or mortgage for their office space, paying hygienists a living wage (hopefully), staffing the office with managers and receptionists, health and business insurance, and obtaining supplies and expensive technology all quickly add up.
Furthermore, state of the art, advanced dental technology isn’t exactly cheap, and unfortunately, dentists are not going to eat the cost of every new piece of technology. This means that they end up needing to pass on the costs to patients. While digital x-rays, precise soft-tissue cutting, and diagnostic lasers have made dental care much safer and faster for patients, it has also had the unfortunate effect of raising prices across the board. These high prices can scare people off from visiting the dentist for regular checkups for their teeth, which can lead to much more serious medical issues down the road.
Another issue is the fact that dental insurance really isn’t insurance at all. Most plans only cover checkups and cleanings, and do very little to help pay for high-cost procedures. Preventative healthcare is incredibly important, especially in the dental care field, as most serious dental issues can be completely avoided with regular cleanings.
Lack Of Access
Another important factor to consider is that while many adults do have the option of getting dental insurance through their workplace, children’s health in America is suffering because their family simply cannot afford dental insurance or lack the funds to pay out of pocket. This issue is further compounded due to low-income families having less access to healthy foods, which leads to children having more need for regular medical attention. Families quickly end up between a rock and a hard place.
Moreover, a general lack of coverage is a serious barrier to dental health, regardless of age. While the Affordable Care Act has done wonders in expanding coverage to people in need, that coverage, sadly, does not necessarily cover dental health. Without dental plans available, Americans are more likely to require tooth extractions or dentures further down the road, neither of which are inexpensive.
Without the ability to access dental insurance, people not only end up having to pay much more later down the road when their oral health inevitably gets worse, but many resort to drastic measures to maintain their dental health. For example, a mother in Florida who could not afford dental insurance for her daughter decided to take her to an inexpensive (but unlicensed) person willing to do the dental work. Unfortunately, the “dentist” ended up permanently disfiguring her daughter by filing her teeth down to the gums and attempting to replace them with a metal bar painted white. It’s a sad, but nightmarish reality many American families face and it’s time for a change — to say the least.
Poverty And Income Inequality
While we can look at the cost of operating a dentistry business and how lack of access affects American citizens looking to keep their teeth healthy, but it’s also worth addressing the real problem within the healthcare industry: the rampant income inequality in America. In a sense, poverty can be thought of as a disease, and if it is left untreated it can be absolutely deadly. For the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who rely on Medicare and Medicaid to ensure their health, the fact that dental procedures are not usually covered is a serious concern.
When children are raised in poverty, the likelihood that they will be able to rise above their economic class, AKA achieve the American Dream, and remain healthy is significantly reduced. Poverty cements disparity in oral health because with less access dental care children are bound to end up needing costly procedures in order to fix the problems created by lack of care in the first place. It is a vicious cycle, and the fact that children in economically disadvantaged areas have less access to pediatricians, and wide access to unhealthy foods is a problem worth fixing.
Furthermore, dental inequality hurts more than just our health. Having a lack of access to proper oral care can actually harm an individual’s economic potential. Think about: first impressions are extremely important in the career world and Americans tend to put a lot of emphasis on straight, white teeth. This means that if someone has poor dental health, it can lead to judgements about their wealth, health, and even their intelligence. So with that in mind, while lack of access to general, quality dental care can lead to increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers, it can also affect someone’s ability to become gainfully employed — resulting in yet another damaging cycle.
While it can seem like oral health should be put on the back burner given our current political climate and issues, realistically, our healthcare system (dental work included) should be a serious issue openly discussed until we find the right solution. Furthermore, America should not be concerned with the non-existent threat of illegal immigrants coming in through our southern border. Instead, America and its leaders should be focused more on protecting and preserving the health of their most vulnerable citizens.