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June 17, 2013

State ranks poorly in dental health

NORMAN — Removing teeth is routine for dentist Randi Hobbs. At least once a month, she removes a full set of decayed teeth and replaces them with dentures.

Hobbs works at Arbuckle Dental in Sulphur, where many patients come in with long-neglected teeth and severe pain. Some have come straight from the emergency room. Many are in need of teeth extraction because they “wait until it gets bad,” Hobbs said.

“They’re usually malnourished, they’re sick, they’re already in pain,” she said. “We’re trying to get them out of pain.”

The problems Hobbs sees are pervasive in Oklahoma, which ranks among the worst in the nation on key measures of oral and dental health.

Among those indicators, tracked in regular surveys by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

· Oklahoma ranked last among all states and the District of Columbia in 2010 in percentage of adults who visited a dentist or a dental clinic in the previous year. About six in 10 Oklahoma adults went to the dentist.

· The state ranked sixth worst in percentage of adults aged 65 and older whose natural teeth had been extracted. The share was 25 percent.

· About six in 10 third-grade students in school year 2009-2010 had tooth decay, or cavities. Close to a fourth of third graders had untreated cavities.

The reasons for Oklahoma’s poor dental health are tied to some of the same reasons cited for its poor overall health. But with dental care, some of the key numbers are more extreme.

One example is lack of insurance. About 17 percent of Oklahomans have no health insurance, but a much larger share of residents, about 50 percent, don’t have dental insurance, according to an Oklahoma State Department of Health official. Jana Winfree, chief of dental health services at the health department, said many jobs don’t come with dental insurance and many workers can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket for dental work. Even simple procedures can cost hundreds of dollars.

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