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America's shockingly poor dental care system

Esther J. Cepeda on

On the professional side, Otto tells how dentistry evolved from being a lowly trade to a profession that takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational costs, and then equipment, to build a viable dentistry practice. And how excruciatingly complex and difficult it is to get reimbursement for treating low-income patients from the few federal or state programs that even provide dental benefits.

Perhaps most importantly, Otto makes readers reflect on how Americans tend to view poor dental health -- as evidenced by dental emergencies, imperfect or yellowed teeth -- as a moral failing or an abdication of personal responsibility rather than as a legitimate lack of access to qualified caregivers.

Otto is most effective at getting this message through when illustrating how shameful it is that so many kids lack access to dental care at the ages when the easiest prevention methods like fluoride treatments and basic cavity care can make a lifetime's worth of difference.

This is not just a problem in very low-income communities, either. I've taught school in solidly middle-class suburbs and still run across many students whose parents are able to clothe and feed them, but not address their painful and embarrassing dental issues. I've had children in class with green, rotting teeth who can hardly eat lunch or concentrate on learning due to pain and shame.

In all, this harrowing book pulls at the heartstrings. It's a must-read for anyone who cares about public health policy -- as a reminder that oral health is a crucial aspect of overall health and not a luxury reserved only for the affluent.

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Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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