Poor dental health care in the U.S. has high costs, and children frequently pay the price. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that children from lower-income families are twice as likely to experience tooth decay than those who come from higher-income households. Part of the problem is that many American still lack dental insurance — about 130 million people in the U.S. do not have dental insurance, and as a result, often choose to avoid routine visits to the dentist.
“It is a silent epidemic,” says Dr. Tyrone Rodriguez, President of the Hispanic Dental Association, which represents over 2,500 Hispanic dentists throughout the U.S. Rodriguez also sees some of the problem as being a lack of education about the importance of dental maintenance. “Parents don’t see anything to worry about if a child has a cavity,” he explains. Good dental health needs to begin in childhood, though, and a cavity early on can impact how adult teeth end up growing in.
Children are impacted by poor dental health in a variety of ways. Oral Health America documents that American children collectively lose over 51 million school hours each year as they deal with dental problems. “The impact it has on education, achievement and advancement is immense,” says Rodriguez. Tooth decay is the most common infectious disease among U.S. children today. Recent studies have indicated that children with tooth decay are more likely to develop ear and sinus infections, which can further impact a child’s ability to successfully attend and pay attention in school.
Immigrants in particular often avoid the dentist because of language barriers and fears about deportation, even though authorities would not track undocumented immigrants down in this way. Many people in the U.S. are afraid of the dentist, period, with about 15% of the population experiencing anxiety and avoiding seeing the dentist as a result. For this reason, many dentists now offer IV and oral sedation for patients who benefit from being more relaxed and less aware of the proceedings