Category Archives: Oral health

Separating fact from fiction on water fluoridation

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Ben Kraal via flickr.

Image by Ben Kraal via flickr.

For close to seven decades now, jurisdictions across the country have been supplementing naturally-occurring fluoride in community water supplies to promote oral health. Numerous studies credit water fluoridation efforts with major reductions in tooth decay during the second half of the 20th century. Many too, attest to the safety of fluoridation at optimum levels. Yet in spite of reams of scientific evidence, debate and fear remain in some places. Last year in Portland, for example, voters overturned a city council decision to fluoridate the local water supply.

“Late last night, Portlanders rejected a plan to fluoridate their city’s water supply (and the water of over a dozen other cities),” wrote Scientific American blogger Kyle Hill in a morning after column. “It’s the fourth time Portland has rejected the public health measure since 1956. It’s the fourth time they’ve gotten the science wrong.”

Meanwhile, similar debates over fluoride have been unfolding. How can reporters in these communities separate the science from the pseudo-science and keep the public informed?

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Supreme Court hears case over teeth whitening, professional board’s power

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by dbking via Flickr

Photo by dbking via Flickr

WASHINGTON — A long-running fight between the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services reached the nation’s high court today.

During an intense hour of oral arguments, the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court delved into whether the state board overstepped federal anti-trust laws in sending out threatening “cease and desist” letters to operators of teeth whitening salons in mall kiosks and salons.

Was the board, which is dominated by practicing dentists, unfairly obstructing competition from lower-priced providers? Or was the body fulfilling its obligation to protect the public health by acting as an arm of the state to shut down illegal practitioners of dentistry?

The court’s decision might have implications for teeth-whitening shops around the country, as well as for the state-established boards that regulate a wide range of professions, Emery Dalesio reported in an Oct. 13 story for The Associated Press

Dental whitening has grown into a multibillion dollar business and the struggle over who should be allowed to bleach teeth has been playing out in many states in recent years. Continue reading

Dental care for people with developmental disabilities

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Blog photo credit: Image by Anderson Mancini via flickr.

Image by Anderson Mancini via flickr.

Writing about the lives of developmentally disabled people and their caregivers? Don’t overlook the topic of dental care. Research indicates that disabled people, including those with developmental disabilities, experience more disease and are less likely to have access to professional dental services than people without disabilities.

The challenges that the 4.9 million Americans living with developmental disabilities may face in maintaining home dental hygiene routines have received little attention. In many cases, people living with conditions such as attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities need help with tasks such as tooth brushing and flossing. The majority of these people live at home and providing this assistance can be challenging for caregivers, particularly family members, according to a unique large-scale study featured on the cover of the October issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. Janice Neumann picked up on the study in a piece for Reuters Health  that ran Oct 2 in the Orlando Sentinel under the headline “Caregiver Training May Help Mentally Disabled Adults with Dental Care.”

“Helping adults with developmental disabilities brush and floss their teeth is often hard for paid and unpaid caregivers, but family members could be in extra need of training,” Neumann wrote. “Researchers found poor brushing and flossing habits and high rates of dental disease in a survey of disabled adults, and many caretakers lacked confidence in their ability to help their charges with daily dental care.”

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Legal feud over dental service shows no sign of lightening up

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Mark Blevis via Flickr

Mark Blevis via Flickr

A long feud between North Carolina’s state dental board and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services may have wider implications for the dental and medical boards that regulate the health professions nationwide.

The case of North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, with oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 14. At issue is whether non-dentists should be allowed to bleach teeth.

Dental whitening has grown into a multibillion dollar business and many dentists offer the service, which involves applying peroxide-containing preparations to the teeth.

Do-it-yourself whitening kits are available in pharmacies. In some states, retail salons and mall kiosks offer teeth-whitening services.

In at least 25 states, dental boards have taken steps to shut down these establishments, according to a report by the Institute for Justice (IJ) a non-profit libertarian law firm. Since 2005, at least 14 states have changed their laws and regulations and now ban all but licensed dentists, hygienists and assistants from performing tooth-whitening procedures, according to the IJ.

Dental organizations back such restrictions, arguing that the retailers are practicing dentistry without a license and contending they could be putting customers at risk.

The details of the cases vary from state to state. But the Supreme Court’s decision in the North Carolina case could have wider implications for tooth-whitening shops – and for the dental and medical boards that regulate the health professions nationwide.

See this new tip sheet on the legal battles over teeth whitening, including details of the situation in a number of states, relevant court cases, statements and other useful coverage.

And be sure to watch Covering Health for coverage of the Oct. 14 Supreme Court arguments.

How are patients dealing with rising costs of dental coverage?

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Dental benefits are on many people’s minds these days, as stories from across the country testify.

In Georgia, Rockdale County employees are facing an increase in their premiums, Alice Queen of The Rockdale Citizen writes. Premiums are also rising  in Anoka County, Minn., Peter Bodley reports for The Anoka County Union Herald. In spite of the expense, these jurisdictions acknowledge the importance of providing dental benefits.

Research shows that without dental coverage, people get less care and suffer more.

Yet the expense of benefits and the complexity of obtaining them continue to present barriers to many people, and the Affordable Care Act did not completely address these problems.

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U.S. children lacking in dental care, other preventive treatments

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by Penn State via Flickr

Photo by Penn State via Flickr

A newly published federal study  finds that millions of American young people have been missing out on key preventive health care services, including simple treatments that can protect against tooth decay.

Fifty-six percent of the nation’s children did not see a dentist in 2009. That same year, a full 86 percent did not receive a dental sealant or topical fluoride treatment, two measures shown to greatly reduce cavities, according to the study, published Sept. 12 in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Meanwhile, oral disease remains prevalent among young people. Approximately 23 percent of children aged 2 to 11 years have at least one primary tooth with untreated decay and 20 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one permanent tooth with untreated decay, the report notes. Continue reading

Dental complaints in California pile up unseen

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Rachel Cook

Rachel Cook

Reporter Rachel Cook’s “Dental Dangers” series, published this summer in The Bakersfield Californian, explores a long history of complaints and lawsuits against Robert Tupac, D.D.S., who, as a board-certified prosthodontist, specializes in the restoration and replacement of teeth.

Over three decades, more than a dozen of Tupac’s patients claimed his shoddy work left them with troubles ranging from bone loss to drooling, Cook recounted in her project. Yet her reporting uncovered a state dental board system that allowed the alleged problems with the dentist to pile up outside public view. “A potential patient searching for competent dental care would never know about many of Tupac’s alleged professional shortcomings — or those of any other California dentist — without undertaking extensive and often difficult research,” Cook wrote.

In a Q and A, Cook reflects on how this project unfolded, how she addressed the challenges she encountered along the way and the reactions she has received since the stories ran. She also shares some wisdom on the usefulness of bringing a portable scanner to the courthouse.

California reverses course on pediatric dental coverage

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by courtney0609 via Flickr.

Photo by courtney0609 via Flickr

Last year about this time, we were reading about Covered California’s decision to require parents seeking pediatric dental coverage on the state’s new insurance exchange to buy separate stand-alone plans for their children.

Pediatric dental coverage was designated as one of 10 essential benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But most dental insurance is sold separately from other kinds of health insurance, and some people supported the idea of selling pediatric dental benefits separately on the state exchange. They contended that consumers who did not want or need pediatric dental benefits should not be required to buy them.

At the same time, Covered California’s plan to offer pediatric dental coverage through stand-alone plans came as a disappointment to oral health advocates. They argued that embedding dental benefits into the health care plans for sale on the state exchange would help expand children’s access to dental care and lower the costs of the benefits by distributing the burden of paying for them across a broader group of people.

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Calif. dental board allows complaints to accumulate outside public view

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by courtney0609 via Flickr.

Photo by courtney0609 via Flickr.

Reporter Rachel Cook took a long and detailed look at the career of one Bakersfield, Calif., dentist and ended up with a series called “Dental Dangers,” recently published in The Bakersfield Californian.

The stories examine a history of complaints and lawsuits against Robert Tupac, who, as a board-certified prosthodontist, specializes in the restoration and replacement of teeth. Over three decades, more than a dozen of Tupac’s patients claimed his shoddy work left them with troubles ranging from bone loss to drooling, Cook wrote, and some patients reported that it would take thousands of dollars worth of corrective work to undo the harm.

In her reporting – done as a 2013 California Health Journalism Fellow – Cook described a state dental board system that allowed the alleged problems with the dentist to pile up outside public view. “A potential patient searching for competent dental care would never know about many of Tupac’s alleged professional shortcomings — or those of any other California dentist — without undertaking extensive and often difficult research,” Cook wrote. Continue reading

Reporter shares experience covering Medicaid’s orthodontic benefits

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Sheila Hagar

Sheila Hagar

After a hint from her own dentist, Sheila Hagar started looking into concerns about the rising numbers of Medicaid kids getting braces in Washington. Hagar, who is medical and social services reporter for the Union-Bulletin, in Walla Walla, sought sources and found statistics that made her jaw drop.

“We should be taking care of people who really have a need,” a frustrated Walla Walla orthodontist, Thomas Utt, D.D.S., told her. “While his office – Walla Walla Orthodontics – is authorized to treat Medicaid-eligible children with braces,” Hagar wrote, “Utt grits his teeth at what he sees as misuse of funds and a lack of clarity over just what ‘medically necessary’ means when it comes to correcting kids’ teeth.”

Here, Hagar tells us more about how she tackled the reporting that led to her July 5 package “State Foots Skyrocketing $27 Million Bill for Braces” and what she is learning about orthodontic benefits under Medicaid. She also shares some wisdom on what to do when no one is returning your calls on an uncomfortable subject. Read how she did her reporting.