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Third-world dental care in the U.S.

        When a child dies due to infection caused by decaying teeth, we tend to think we are talking about a third-world issue.  Not so, apparently.  THIS YEAR, children's deaths in Mississippi and Maryland were documented to have occurred as a result of tooth decay.  Thousands of children suffer illness and pain due to dental problems that are only miserable but not fatal. 

        While most middle and upper class children enjoy "straight white teeth as a virtual birthright", the New York Times reported the above deaths and the fact that untreated tooth decay has reached higher rates among children (27 percent) and adults (29 percent) than the U.S. has seen in decades.  100 million people in the U.S. (one-third of the population) lack dental coverage, most dentists won't take Medicaid patients, and the waiting list for care in state-supported institutions often reaches six months or more.

        The number of dentists in the U.S. has remained relative flat--150,000 to 160,000 (including part-timers who are more common today) since 1990, while the population has risen by 22 percent.  In 2004, the average income for dentists was $185,000.00, while oral surgeons and orthodontists reported average incomes of more than $300,000.00 annually.  Several dental schools have closed their doors, leading to fewer graduates in 2003 (4440) than there were in 1982 (5750), and an average age among practitioners of 49.  This is apparently because training dentists is expensive and there is no hospital training ground or "hands-on" resident finishing school for dentists.

        In most other first-world nations (50 to be precise), "dental therapists" have been trained to perform simple cavity treatment, however, in the U.S., the ADA has fought the licensing of this type of therapist, even in areas of Alaska that have never seen a real-live dentist.  The result is a decaying dental health system that is deadly for poor children but very lucrative for dentists.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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