Oral Health in America: Are Americans Seeing the Dentist?

A recent study by Gallup Well-Being shows that nearly a third of all American adults haven't been to the dentist in the past year. The American Dental Association recommends that those with even the lowest risk of dental disease seek preventive dental care at least once a year. And while several factors can affect a person's ability or likelihood to see a dentist, the survey still reflects poorly on oral health in America.

Who is Going?

Participants were surveyed by Gallup in 2008, and then again in 2013. The number of people who stated they had been to their dentist over the past year held steady across both polls: In 2008, 65.7% of people said they had been to the dentist; in 2013, that dropped slightly to 64.7%. So, who is going and who needs to go more?

  • About 4.3 percent more women sought care than men.
  • Married adults had visited the dentist at a higher percentage than those who were single, divorced or widowed.
  • People within the two highest annual household income groups visited the dentist almost twice as much as those in the two lowest income groups.
  • More seniors are seeing the dentist now than in 2008, up 4.3%.
  • Adults ages 30 to 44 and ages 45 to 64 saw a reduction over the five year period, with 64.2% and 66.7% of people in those age groups going to the dentist, respectively.

Why Americans Should be Concerned

Several studies in the last 15 years have linked oral health to total bodily health, including reports by the United States Surgeon General. Poor oral health, especially for those unaware of the problem, can lead to several conditions that are actually preventable with an appropriate daily routine. Some of these conditions can occur when minor inflammation introduces oral bacteria into the bloodstream, increasing the possibility of heart disease or stroke. Expecting mothers should take even extra care, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, because that bacteria creates the potential of a pre-term or low birth weight delivery.

Education and Prevention

Routine dental appointments not only provide the necessary therapy for vulnerable teeth, but also the education that is critical to the personal treatment and prevention of inflammation and bacteria growth in the mouth. As new medical insurance policies adjust our access to oral health in America, many individuals are now focusing on prevention as a means of keeping treatment costs down. One way to do that is to solicit the knowledge of a dental professional. Your family's dentist will recommend the best at-home treatment and routine to use between dental visits, such as using the Colgate® PreviDent® fluoride mouthrinse and toothpaste products.

Poor oral health is preventable, and your dentist can help provide the motivation and education necessary to keep your mouth healthy.

About the author: Emily Boge, RDH, BS, MPAc, is a health sciences public administration Master's degree candidate at Upper Iowa University, and has practiced dental hygiene since 2003 in Manchester, Iowa. Emily is also the owner of Think Big Dental, a consulting and writing firm specializing in the education of corporations and health professionals on the role of dental hygienists.