How Can We Close the Oral Health Gap?

The most common childhood disease in the U.S. is dental caries (or cavities), which can, if left untreated, lead to pain, inability to concentrate and absence from school.

Poor oral health is also linked to other physical health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease — the leading causes of death.

More than a decade after the U.S. surgeon general called poor oral health a “silent epidemic,” little has changed to improve outcomes among vulnerable populations.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act expanded oral health care, providing for oral health risk assessments and screenings for cavities for young children. Yet the low rate of provider reimbursement and lack of coordination within the health care system remain inadequate.

Other issues that still must be addressed include the cultural competence of health care professionals and a lack of public awareness, especially among underserved populations.

One solution to close the oral health gap is to better educate both patients and providers about the importance of oral health.

This Health Policy Snapshot, published online in September 2011, examines the disparties in access to oral health and lists policy recommendations for change.

Read more from RWJF's Health Policy Snapshot series.