When it comes to dental care in the United States, the cumulative report card doesn’t look too good for one of the wealthiest nations in the world.
But some states do fare better than others. Per a recent WalletHub analysis, the quality of dental care varies wildly from state to state.
Ranking all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the top five states for dental care are: Minnesota (way out in front of the pack), Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota and Connecticut, in that order.
The worst? Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana, Alabama, and West Virginia, in last place.
WalletHub arrived at its list after assessing the states across 23 key indicators. Those indicators included everything from cost of dental care, to the number of adolescents who visited a dentist in the past year, to the number of adults who have a low level of “life satisfaction” due to the condition of their teeth.
Alabama and Mississippi are in the top five states with lowest dental costs, even though they both fare poorly for dental care. Other states with low-cost dental care include Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas.
Dental care is most expensive in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Where you live not only affects your dental health, but also your pocketbook, especially for women, per the analysis. “According to researchers at Columbia University, ‘women who resided in communities with fluoridated water during childhood earn approximately 4 percent more than women who did not,’” the report stated, adding that they found “no effect of fluoridation for men.”
And for women who are missing teeth? “The loss of a tooth, on the other hand, can cost ‘an urban-residing woman earning $11/hour and working full time’ approximately $720 in annual earnings,” according to the report. “Besides that, oral diseases result in global productivity losses and treatment costs totaling an estimated $442 billion per year.”
States where teens consume the highest about of sugary beverages, a leading cause of tooth decay, include Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky. States where adolescents consume the lowest amount of sugary drinks are Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Hawaii and Idaho.
Smoking also can damage teeth. The states with the most smokers are Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, according to WalletHub. Utah, California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Idaho have the lowest numbers of smokers.
It’s essential to educate children early about the importance of dental health, according to Robert E. Barsley, professor of Diagnostic Sciences and Director of Oral Health Resources and Community and Hospital Dentistry at Louisiana State University.
“Beyond brushing and flossing, children should have a dental home – a dental practice, which closely monitors their personal dental health,” Barsley told WalletHub. “Children (and their parents) should also be made aware of the role that diet plays in dental health – not only food, drink and snack choices, but also the timing of snacking. A child should know that if he cannot brush or floss his teeth after eating, then rinsing the mouth with water could help by washing away residual sugars and raising the pH of the oral environment.”
While Medicaid covers dental costs for children, the elderly population is largely on their own. And it’s elderly people that suffer from poor dental care in America more than any other group.
In an interview with Healthline News, Maxine Feinberg, a Cranford, N.J. dentist, says the state of dental care in the U.S. does seem to be improving, at least. “The good news is that with evidence mounting that problems like (gum) disease can affect other parts of the body, like the cardiovascular system, insurers, policymakers, the other health professions and parents are looking at the mouth from the viewpoint of maintaining systemic health, rather than isolating – and undervaluing – healthy teeth and gums.”
A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”