ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
Dr. Matthew Mangino, dentist with Paducah Dental Care, examines a patient Tuesday. New data from the Kentucky Health Issues Poll suggests routine dental care isn't a top priority for many residents across the state.
Oral health can provide clinicians a quick snapshot of a person’s overall well being, and although mere centimeters separate those choppers from a person’s brain, healthy teeth can often be furthest from people’s minds.
New data from the Kentucky Health Issues Poll suggests routine dental care isn’t a top priority for many residents across the state, while more than half of all surveyed adults reported having no dental insurance of any kind.
According to the health poll, funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, about 1.7 million Kentucky adults lack dental insurance, a figure that’s 10 times greater than the number of people who attended last year’s Kentucky Derby.
“Oral health is essential to overall health,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, president/CEO of the foundation, in a news release. “Yet, our research indicates a majority of Kentuckians do not have dental coverage, so it is not surprising that a large number of adults do not have a personal dentist or oral health provider.”
The health poll indicated 39 percent of Kentucky adults reported they do not have a usual dentist or oral health provider, while 79 percent of those without a usual source of professional oral care reported they last visited the dentist more than five years ago.
About half of respondents without dental insurance reported skipping dental care or check-ups in the past year because of cost. Twice as many adults without dental insurance (49 percent) reported going without needed oral care as did those with dental insurance (25 percent), the poll showed.
“Dental insurance is a good thing, but at the same time people focus on it so much that they say they can’t afford insurance and then don’t go (to the dentist) at all,” said Dr. Matthew Mangino, dentist with Paducah Dental Care.
“You’re really going to save yourself a bunch of money if you just come in every six months. By the time people come in in pain, there’s a lot more going on and that’s when you really start to build up costs.”
Mangino said he wasn’t surprised to see the statistics of the health issues poll, as Kentucky has ranked in the lower percentile when compared with oral health care in other states for several years.
Most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey Data for 2010 shows Kentucky had the third highest percentage of working age adults who had lost all their natural teeth from tooth decay or gum disease.
“The hard part about tackling this is there’s so many avenues to attack it from,” Mangino said. “There’s not a silver bullet to fix this, but education is probably the biggest force if you can just make people aware.” Anytime Mangino receives a new patient who hasn’t been in the dentist’s chair for several years, there’s always a concern for the bacteria that can develop in that person’s mouth. Left unchecked, oral conditions like gum disease or tooth decay can become risk factors in larger health concerns. Endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart, can develop when bacteria from other parts of the body — usually the mouth — enters into the blood stream and travels to the heart, causing life-threatening damage to heart valves if not caught early.
Fluctuating hormone levels during pregnancy can also cause women to develop a form of gingivitis. If pregnancy gingivitis is left unchecked, the condition could develop into periodontitis, which has been identified as a risk factor for preterm birth.
“The mouth is kind of like a porthole window into the rest of the body,” Mangino said. “If it’s not healthy there, then there’s a chance you have some other problems occurring in the body.”
The health issues poll was comprised of a random sample of 1,680 Kentucky adults, and was conducted via telephone between September and October. There is a margin of error of ±2.5 percent.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.