Alabama ranks 50th for overall dental health

by Associate Life Editor Tyler Hargett

One of the dreaded aspects of health care for people young and old is visiting the dentist. Whether it is the pain of having a dentist operate on their mouth or being nervous to make an appointment, some people avoid this process. This is especially so in Alabama.

Alabama is the second-worst state in dental health, according to personal finance website WalletHub’s February 2017 report.

WalletHub took the 50 states, and the District of Columbia, and ranked them based on their average score in dental habits and oral care. Alabama took the 50th place for overall dental health with a score of 36.98 out of 100. It scored less than a point above West Virgina in last place with a score of 36.40. The study ranked Minnesota as no. 1.

The reason Alabama and other states are low on the list might be because of the average income of residents, said Amy Crews, adviser of pre-health majors and director of university advising.

“I think a lot of times the cost is out of the price range of the average person,” Crews said. “If you’re looking at someone’s disposable income, they’ve got other things they need to spend that money on as opposed to dental care. (Also), I don’t know that people understand how important oral health is to their overall well-being.”

The cost issue deals with Medicaid and other insurance providers, said Dr. Robert Griffin, UNA alumnus.

“A lot of (Alabama) dentists (either) aren’t accepting Medicaid or used to and are not now, because the money is drying up,” Griffin said. “We need to have a serious conversation about what we want our statewide program to be. When we determine this, we need to (either) fund it and fund it well or not do it. There’s not much middle ground.”

Junior Nathan Hansen said he believes the state has room for dental improvement and more dentists. Despite this, there remains competition for getting into dental schools. However, this does not deter him from wanting to become a dentist.

After he graduates from UNA, Hansen said he hopes to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Dentistry, Alabama’s only dental school.

“I’m considering becoming a rural dentist,” he said. “So many rural communities in Alabama are underserved with (dental) professionals.”

While low dental rankings may not seem as important to some as much as low income or low job offerings, possible health issues can occur from poor dental health.

Poor oral health may increase the risk of respiratory infections, such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which can affect the lungs, according to a study from the Journal of Periodontology.

“It’s not all on the dentist,” Hansen said. “There are responsibilities put on the individual person.”

Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat, professor of Periodontology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, reported if people use mouthwash twice a day, they can decrease the risk of gum disease by 60 percent.

Having high levels of physical fitness and keeping a healthy weight can help lower the risk, according to the Journal of Periodontology.

Griffin said these issues show how important it was for college students to visit the dentist.

“In college, a lot of times life (can get) in the way,” he said. “Because you’re away from home, you might forget you had a regular physician. If you’re not from the area, you need to find yourself a local dentist to still get your regular checkups.”