Many Americans Lack Access to Oral Health Care Services

Economic, structural, geographic, and cultural factors contribute to lack of access

WEDNESDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- Many Americans are not receiving necessary oral health care services due to barriers that hinder their access to dental care, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council published online July 13.

Barriers to accessing oral health care services include economic, structural, geographic, and cultural factors, according to the report. Children, seniors, and minorities appear to be most impacted. The report revealed that approximately 33.3 million Americans live in areas with shortages of dental health professionals and 4.6 million children did not obtain needed dental care in 2008 because their families could not afford it. In addition, in 2006, only 38 percent of retirees had dental coverage.

To address these hindrances to oral health care, the report recommends changing funding and reimbursement for oral health care; training doctors, nurses, and other non-dental professionals to identify the risk for oral diseases; and updating regulatory, educational, and administrative practices. The report addresses underserved areas, focusing on expanding oral health care services in these areas by boosting training of oral health care professionals and increasing access to care.

"The consequences of insufficient access to oral health care and resultant poor oral health -- at both the individual and population levels -- are far-reaching," Frederick Rivara, of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, and chair of the committee that wrote the report, said in a statement. "As the nation struggles to address the larger systemic issues of access to health care, we need to ensure that oral health is recognized as a basic component of overall health."

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