The Deseret News: No Teeth Means No Job
Earlier this year, the managers at a Salt Lake City counseling office were struggling to fill a position at their front desk. They'd blazed through a string of potential candidates sent by a staffing agency, but none had the qualifications they were looking for. And then the agency sent a candidate named Shelly (not her real name), a 35-year-old mother of three who'd re-entered the work force because her husband was laid off.
“Everyone in the office loved her, ” recalls Miriam Brown, who also worked the front desk. As a temporary employee, Shelly was pleasant to work with, competent and kind to the patients. “We all told our boss to hire her because she was so great."
Instead, management hired someone else.
At a staff meeting, Brown asked her manager why Shelly wasn’t hired permanately. The response shocked everyone in the room. The office manager said Shelly had bucked and crooked teeth. “He said it wasn’t the image we wanted to project at our clinic,” Brown said.
This is not an isolated incident. Studies show bad teeth prevent otherwise qualified candidates from getting jobs or promotions. Although the U.S. is on the cutting edge of innovations in dentistry, many Americans have poor oral health and crooked or missing teeth and don't go to the dentist because they don’t have insurance and can’t afford to pay out of pocket for care. The scope of the problem is widespread: close to half of Americans are without dental insurance, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Access to dental care in America is limited in two basic ways. First, many don’t have access to insurance, and second there is a shortage of dentists who are willing to treat the poor.
About 130 million Americans, 43 percent of the population, have no dental coverage whatsoever, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging. The data show that although spending on dental services amounts to just under 5 percent of total health care expenditures, 44 percent of dental bills are paid for directly out of patients' pockets.
This sheds some light on why low-income families are more likely to suffer from compromised oral health: they don’t have the wiggle room in their budgets to pay for dental services. Instead of heading to the dentist when they experience tooth pain or injury, they go to the emergency room.
Currently, low-income and minority families experience more oral disease, yet they receive less care, according to Bernard Sanders, author of a 2012 Senate report on the dental care crisis in America. "It is our ethical and moral imperative to commit to providing access to dental care for all, both to improve health and to reduce overall costs,” he wrote.
Sanders advocates introducing a new work force model by adding dental therapists, the dental equivalent of a nurse practitioner, to the system. More than 50 countries around the world, including Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand, use dental therapists. Minnesota is the only state where dental therapists are authorized to practice. "I am trained to the level of a dentist, but trained to do fewer things," said Minnesota's first registered dental therapist, Christy Jo Fogerty, in a Frontline documentary, "Dollars and Dentists," that aired earlier this year.
Preliminary studies suggest dental therapists substantially increase access to dental services and provide high quality, lower-cost care, according to Sanders. Analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that private practice dentists who add dental therapists to their teams would maintain or improve their bottom lines.
Read the full article at The Deseret News.