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FOR RELEASE: June 15, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Oklahomans Face Barriers to Oral Health Care

The first-ever Surgeon General's national report on oral health lists major barriers to good oral health such as a lack of dental insurance, inability to pay out of pocket, lack of access due to transportation, and a problem of taking time off work to see a dental health care provider. State health officials say that Oklahomans encounter the same problems and barriers to good oral health care as listed in the national report.

While 44 million Americans lack medical insurance, about 108 million lack dental insurance. The report points out that for every child without medical insurance there are 2.6 children without dental insurance. For every adult without medical insurance there are three adults without dental insurance.

Uninsured children are 2.5 times less likely to receive dental care than insured children. And children from families without dental insurance are 3 times as likely to have dental needs as compared to insured peer children.

Good oral health and good overall health are important to quality life. Due to improvements in safe and effective disease prevention during the last 50 years, middle-aged and younger Americans can expect to retain their natural teeth over their lifetime.

Disparities continue to exist, however, among those without the knowledge or resources to achieve good oral care. Those who suffer the worst oral health include poor Americans, especially children and the elderly, and racial and ethnic groups. Persons with disabilities and complex health conditions are at greater risk for oral diseases that further complicate health. Oral problems may include dental caries or tooth decay and periodontal or gum disease, oral infections, birth defects, cold sores, chronic facial pain and oral cancers.

The report, Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, describes the disparities in oral health care and makes recommendations on ways to improve oral health care. In the report, Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D. recommends more public awareness about preventive tactics such as personal daily oral hygiene habits like brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing. The report further recommends health care provider interventions, including the use of dental sealant and examinations for oral and pharyngeal cancer.

The report states that good nutrition and diet add to overall well being of oral health, and that community water fluoridation and tobacco cessation programs also help. The report also notes that general health risk factors such as tobacco use and poor dietary practices negatively affect oral and craniofacial health. Evidence of an association between tobacco use and oral diseases has been reported in the Surgeon General's reports on tobacco since 1964.

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