Dental care is a necessity that not everyone in the country can afford. In states like Missouri, more than a thousand St. Louis residents lined up to receive free dental care from the Missouri Mission of Mercy earlier this month, the city’s first attempt to offer residents access to free, preventative care. The clinic was staffed with dentists, lab technicians, physicians, hygienists, nurses, and many other volunteers from within the city.
According to Dr. Vince Rapini, a member of the Missouri Mission of Mercy who also serves as a member of the Missouri Dental Association, since 2005, the state government has not included aid for adult dental care in the its budget, leaving several residents without access to cleanings, fillings, and other preventative care that could prove beneficial to their overall health. He adds that even with government-funded medical assistance programs, many patients still do not qualify for basic dental care.
The issue of inadequate dental care is also a problem in states like Tennessee, where, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 53% of the state’s residents are missing at least six teeth. One Tennessee dentist claims that the state is also in a dental crisis, because there is a shortage of dental professionals. Connecticut recently held a free clinic for its residents, with some people claiming that the Obamacare insurance plan gives them access to medical care, but not dental care. Many patients also feel that the dental coverage they do receive is not sufficient enough to support major dental work.
The problem with this is that poor oral health could lead to serious health problems, explains Dr. Rapini, such as periodontal disease, which some studies have shown to increase the chances of heart stroke and disease. He also points to low birth weight and premature birth as possible outcomes of a lack of dental care. These problems can lead to missed school days for children, and a similar situation for adults in the workplace.
Periodontal disease can also push patients toward cosmetic dentistry to fix their decayed or missing teeth, through dental implants, veneers, and other treatments. As a result, the cosmetic dentistry industry currently generates $4 billion in revenue. But this is not always an option for patients because these procedures are typically uninsured, and can cost thousands of dollars per tooth.
Instead, Dr. Rapini is hopeful the government will begin to take the importance of dental care into consideration. Missouri’s state government is looking at a new proposal that will fund adult dental care through Medicaid, a move that state dentists have been pushing for in the last 10 years. One of the main reasons for this proposal stems from the fact that most patients head straight to the emergency room for dental crises, where they can be treated but will ultimately need the help of a dentist to resolve the problem.
By offering more dental care through Medicaid and other government programs, Dr. Rapini believes that Missouri can save money on costly ER treatments, and improve the quality of its resident’s oral health.