Category Archives: Oral health

Baseball’s Schilling blames tobacco for cancer; what do reporters need to know about links?

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: Jeff Archer via Flickr

Photo: Jeff Archer via Flickr

The ties between smokeless tobacco and baseball run deep. The immortal Babe Ruth claimed Pinch Hit was his chew of choice (as this short film from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us). Now, World Series-winning pitcher Curt Schilling, who revealed in June that his cancer was in remission but didn’t say what kind of cancer it was, has announced that it is oral cancer. He blames the cancer on his 30 years of chewing tobacco.

The June death of Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn served as a reminder of the dangers posed by the habit. Gwynn said he believed the salivary gland cancer that killed him was caused by his longtime use of chewing tobacco.

National, state and local health organizations used the story of Gwynn’s passing to talk about the dangers of smokeless tobacco and likely will use Schilling’s news to raise awareness. Is there an angle in this that you could explore in your own state or community?

Mary Otto, AHCJ’s core topic leader on oral health, has written a tip sheet that includes links to studies on the connections between smokeless tobacco and cancer, where Major League Baseball and the players stand on eliminating chewing tobacco from the sport and more information you can use when reporting on the almost inevitable awareness campaigns. Read it now…

Are medical, dental boards public or private? Case over teeth-whitening services may decide

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 waldopepper via Flickr

Image by waldopepper via Flickr

A long-simmering feud between North Carolina’s state dental board and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services in malls and day spas is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, are scheduled for Oct. 14, the ADA (American Dental Association) News reports.

The decision could have wider implications for teeth-whitening shops – and for the dental and medical boards that regulate the health professions nationwide. Dental whitening has grown into a big business in recent years and, in a number of states, dental boards have taken steps to make the services illegal for anyone but dentists or hygienists to perform. Campbell Robertson provided a thorough look at the topic in a story last year for The New York Times.

In North Carolina, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken the side of the retail teeth-whitening shops. In 2011, the commission held that North Carolina’s state dental board “illegally thwarted competition by working to bar non-dentist providers of teeth whitening goods and services from selling their products to consumers.”

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the FTC’s ruling.

But the North Carolina dental board argues that its actions are not subject to such challenges because federal antitrust laws do not apply to actions taken by a state or its agencies. Continue reading

Is your community fighting tooth decay with school-based dental sealant programs?

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Have you visited a school-based dental sealant program in your state or community? There may be a good story there.

Can’t find one to visit? That may be another worthwhile story.

Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that are applied to children’s permanent back teeth to seal the narrow grooves on the chewing surfaces and keep out decay-causing bacteria and food particles. Studies show that the procedure can reduce the incidence of tooth decay by 60 percent.

But poor and high-risk kids who could benefit the most from sealants are not always receiving them.

This new tip sheet from Mary Otto, AHCJ’s oral health core topic leader, explains why not all children who should have sealants are getting them and how to check into it in your community. Read more …

Editorial: No reason to artificially constrain supply of dental practitioners

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: Photo by U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr

Photo by U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr

In a recent editorial, The Washington Post endorsed the licensing of dental therapists to expand care to millions of Americans who lack it.

“Everyone seems to agree that there is a dental crisis in the United States, particularly among people in poor and rural areas. People who have dental insurance or the means to pay out of pocket can get a high level of care. Those without struggle,” wrote members of the newspaper’s editorial board in the July 14 piece.

In building their case, the Post editors harked back to the 2007 death of Deamonte Driver, a child on Maryland’s Medicaid program who died after his abscessed tooth went untreated. (I covered his story when I worked at the Post).

While Maryland has made some progress in getting more dental care to underserved people, including Medicaid patients, the Post editors noted “the situation across the country has not dramatically improved.” Continue reading

Tennessean reporter investigates complaints over Medicaid dental provider

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.

Tom Wilemon

Tom Wilemon

Quite a few folks in Tennessee are upset right now with DentaQuest, the giant dental benefits company that took over the contract to provide oral health services to poor kids under the state’s Medicaid program earlier this year.

Two hundred black dentists are riled that they were cut from the provider network. The state dental association has withdrawn its support for DentaQuest’s contract. And some consumers (including a group home operator) are saying the company is making it harder for patients to get the care they need.

Meanwhile, company officials insist that no child with TennCare benefits has lost access to dental care under their watch. They defend their performance in Tennessee, saying that screenings have increased and that the state network of 864 providers – one for every 857 patients – exceeds nationally recommended standards.

What is going on? The Tennessean’s Tom Wilemon has been working to find out. His story last month offered a look at the situation.

In this Q&A, he gives an update and some additional insights into his reporting. He also shares some wisdom with others who might find themselves tackling a similar story.

Reporter looks into rise in kids’ orthodontic care in Wash.

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 Jlhopgood via flickr.

Image by Jlhopgood via flickr.

Though a state investigation has failed to prove that any dental providers committed fraud, scandal still hovers over Texas’ Medicaid orthodontic program.

Now questions are being raised in Washington, where there has been a spike in the number of poor kids with braces. Medicaid orthodontic spending in the state jumped from $884,000 for braces for just 1,240 kids in 2007 to nearly $27 million for 21,369 children last year, Sheila Hagar reported in a July 5 package for the Union-Bulletin in Walla Walla, Wash.

What is going on? Hagar talked to a Walla Walla orthodontist, Thomas Utt, D.D.S., in her quest to find out. Utt has been worrying about the increase and has been raising concerns on the state level.

“We should be taking care of people who really have a need,” Utt told Hagar. But “need” appears to be a moving and subjective target in the state when it comes to braces, Hagar reported. Continue reading

Dentist recognized for outreach, treatment of nursing home residents

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.

Untreated oral disease can have a devastating impact upon frail elders.

Yet significant financial and physical barriers prevent many from getting the care they need. (See related tip sheet, “Getting dental care to elders in nursing homes.”)

The lack of dental services is particularly acute for many of the 1.4 million seniors living in nursing homes, placing them at increased risk for everything from pain and tooth loss to poor nutrition and serious, even fatal infections.

“Brushing teeth becomes a life or death thing for many patients,” dentist Gregory Folse, D.D.S., told AHCJ members who joined a recent webinar dedicated to exploring the challenges of getting care to vulnerable nursing home residents.

Folse, whose innovative mobile dental practice is dedicated to getting care to more than two dozen Louisiana nursing homes, spends his days addressing those challenges.

It turns out his efforts are deeply appreciated in his community of Lafayette, La. Folse was recently named Dentist of the Year by a local nonprofit.

Bill Decker, community editor of The Advertiser in Lafayette used the award as a peg to create a feature story in words and video about Folse and the people he serves. Continue reading

Listeners hear from patients, dentists at charity dental clinic

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.

Katie Hiler

Katie Hiler

KBIA Mid-Missouri Public Radio listeners were recently offered an insightful report on the problems poor adults in the state have been facing in getting dental care.

Nearly a decade ago, Missouri eliminated funding for all Medicaid beneficiaries except children, pregnant women and the disabled.

The move “left a lot of people with only bad options,” reporter Katie Hiler explained, borrowing a quote from the film “Argo.”

To illustrate the point, Hiler invited her audience along on a visit to a rare charity clinic called Smiles of Hope, run out of a converted church attic. At the clinic, dentist William Kane spoke of his efforts to meet the overwhelming need for services such as emergency extractions.

Hiler ended her report with some news. A decision by the Missouri legislature to restore funding for adult dental care under Medicaid is expected to help to give some poor Missourians more options, she observed.

Yet at the same time, 300,000 low-income adults who would qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are at this point shut out because of the state’s refusal to expand the program.

“Which means,” Hiler noted in closing, “Smiles of Hope isn’t going anywhere.”

In a Q&A for AHCJ, Hiler offers some thoughts on what got her started on this story and how her work unfolded. She also shares some wisdom on what it takes to make a radio story come alive.

Study: Midlevel providers expand dental care to those in need

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 Herry Lawford via flickr.

Image by Herry Lawford via flickr.

From dental therapists working in clinics in rural Alaska and urban Minnesota to hygienists using telehealth technology in California schools, innovative models are showing promise in getting cost-effective dental care to some of the millions of Americans who now lack it, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Today’s report, “Expanding the Dental Team,” examines three nonprofit settings where midlevel dental providers are employed as part of larger dental teams. The paper concludes that the workers have successfully expanded services to previously underserved populations; and that their employment is a cost-efficient method of delivering care.

The report offers case studies of a tribal-owned clinic in Alaska; a federally qualified health center in Minneapolis and a telehealth project operated by the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry at sites in California.

Study researchers conducted site visits, interviewed dental team members, clinic administrators and patients and reviewed practice records for the three programs. They found wide variation among the practices but concluded that all three models allowed nonprofits to stretch their funds while providing increase access to care. Continue reading

Gwynn’s death puts spotlight on smokeless tobacco

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 Bisayan lady via flickr.

Image by Bisayan lady via flickr.

San Diego Padres’ great Tony Gwynn died June 16 from cancer of the salivary gland.

He blamed his cancer on his use of smokeless tobacco throughout his 20-year career. Now other players and officials are taking a look at the addiction’s deep and enduring grip on the sport.

“Smokeless kills,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy in a June 18 story. “And yet big league ballplayers, coaches and managers still use smokeless tobacco. It’s a baseball thing, and it’s killing players, and many don’t want to stop. Or they can’t stop.”

Continue reading