To improve health disparities, focus on oral health

That’s the recommendation on a new blog from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. How so? Well, here’s an argument.

Let’s begin by recognizing chronic diseases such as diabetes and COPD have a much higher prevalence in poorer communities than rich ones. For example, about 4 in 100 adults in Rosedale (high income) in Toronto have diabetes, whereas, 3 kilometers away in St. Jamestown (low income), 12 in 100 are diabetic.

Secondly, let’s also recognize these chronic medical conditions are bidirectionally linked to poor oral health. One plays off on the other.

Thirdly, let’s agree that there are few if any dentists serving St. Jamestown. Not enough dental insurance, not enough income to support restorative dentistry other than in an emergency.

There are serious consequences to this “dental desert” in St. Jamestown.

According to American insurance companies, those with limited claims for periodontal care have significantly higher use of the Emergency Room and hospital beds. Poor oral health makes people sicker.

So, in this case, should the Government support a dental clinic in low income communities?

If this clinic managed the cause of poor oral health (oral dysbiosis), such a case can be made.

But if this clinic addressed only the consequence of poor oral health (cavities and bleeding gums), the policymakers will be disappointed and few residents from St. Jamestown would attend. It would be a failure.

So the title of the blog is intriguing. Health disparities might be addressed with the right kind of preventive oral health services.