Category Archives: Oral health

Lessons learned in covering passage of a soda tax

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 Lochner

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 elections, Tom Lochner covered the debate over soda tax questions on the ballots in Berkeley and San Francisco. When the results became clear, he reported on the outcome for the Contra Costa Times.

In this Q&A, Lochner offers his insights into how the historic vote in Berkeley unfolded, why the soda tax didn’t pass in San Francisco and he shares a few words of wisdom for reporters who may find themselves covering soda tax debates in their own communities.

Berkeley’s penny-an-ounce tax passed in spite of heavy opposition from the American Beverage Association. Bourque predicted a sea change in the air. “The tides have turned on Big Soda.”

In this Q&A, Lochner offers his insights into how the historic vote in Berkeley unfolded and he shares a few words of wisdom with reporters who may find themselves covering soda tax debates in their own communities.

Going international for dental care: Questions patients should ask

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.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are traveling abroad each year for health care services.

Many factors are helping to drive the medical tourism trend, including the aging of the baby boom generation, cheap airfares, a growing number of online resources dedicated to health-related travel and the promise of savings on costly procedures such as major dental restorations that patients lacking coverage would need to pay for out-of-pocket care.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo playerBettie Cross of  KEYE-Austin, Texas, took a look at dental vacations in a recent segment. She talked with patients who headed to Mexico for dental care and came back with different stories to tell.

Kim Conley, who decided to get three dental implants in Cancun, returned with video tapes her husband made documenting everything from the resort where they stayed to the dental office where she got her treatments. Continue reading

Pucker up: Research into kissing may help with future bacterial therapies

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.

Dutch researchers have concluded that during a 10-second French kiss, partners exchange an average of 80 million bacteria.

Their study, “Shaping the Oral Microbiota Through Intimate Kissing,” was recently published in the journal Microbiome.

The researchers conducted their investigation with the help of 21 human couples visiting Amsterdam’s Royal Artis Zoo on a summer day in 2012. They administered a questionnaire on the kissing habits of each partner in each couple and collected samples of tongue and salivary microbiota from each participant before and after a “controlled kissing experiment.” Then they offered a probiotic yogurt drink containing marker bacteria to one of the partners in each couple prior to a second French kiss to quantify the number of bacteria exchanged.

Photo: Marin Wibaux via Flickr

Photo: Marin Wibaux via Flickr

The findings suggest that a shared microbiota is able to develop in the mouths of partners. While collective bacteria in saliva were eventually washed out, those on the surface of the tongue were able to find “a true niche, allowing long-term colonization,” the researchers wrote.

“French kissing is a great example of exposure to a gigantic number of bacteria in a short time,” lead researcher Remco Kort of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research said in a story published online by the BBC. “But only some bacteria transferred from a kiss seemed to take hold on the tongue.

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Seniors face struggle to get preventive dental care

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.

A recent special “Your Money” section in The New York Times looked at American spending habits from a variety of angles. One piece examined geographic patterns in the consumption of luxury goods. Another explored the emotional aspects of bargain hunting. Then there was an article by Ann Carrns that delved into the difficult spending choices retirees may face in obtaining dental care.

Image by  Partha S. Sahana via flickr.

Image by Partha S. Sahana via flickr.

The piece opened with an anecdote about 73-year-old Terry O’Brien, a retired administrative assistant weighing the cost of a $2,000 crown for one of her teeth.

“I always took care of my teeth,” O’Brien told the Times. But since she lacks dental coverage, she opted for a less expensive filling. The call was a tough one that left O’Brien pondering how she will go on paying for her dental care. “I’ll make 100, I bet,” she said.  “But I wonder how long my teeth will last.” Continue reading

How, and why, some schools provide dental care for needy children

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.

In a series of stories, “The Burden of Poverty: A Backpack of Heartache,” reporters at the School News Network, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., are exploring the deep challenges poverty creates for local students and their families as well as strategies schools are employing to helping disadvantaged students succeed.

Articles in the series so far have examined the correlation between low test scores and low income and have provided a candid look at the struggles of a nearly homeless honor student. The series has highlighted the ways schools are trying to address the health disparities that can make it harder for poor children to succeed in school.

One recent story looked at the role school nurses play in helping poor children cope with chronic diseases. A Nov. 14 piece explains how a school-based dental program attends to the oral health needs of children who might otherwise be distracted from their studies by the debilitating pain of untreated dental disease. Continue reading

Research examines impact of soda taxes on oral health

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 from  Rex Sorgatz via flickr.

Image from Rex Sorgatz via flickr.

Is there a soda tax debate coming to your community? The potential for such taxes to address problems with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are important angles to explore, but don’t forget the oral health aspect of the soda tax story.

In the November 2014 elections, Berkeley, Calif., voters approved a 1-cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, a measure strongly opposed by the American Beverage Association but supported by a wide range of health groups.

While Berkeley is the first city in the country to approve such a “sin” tax, it might have opened the door for other communities to do so. In the latest tip sheet, I have collected relevant research and resources for reporters who might be called on to cover soda taxes.

New report raises concerns about Indiana dental chains

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.

A new federal report raises questions about the billing practices of nearly 100 Indiana Medicaid dentists, as well as the quality of care provided by several dental chains that serve poor children in the state.

While the report, produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, does not explicitly name specific dentists or clinics, the authors note that two-thirds of the dentists whose billing practices raised concerns worked for four dental chains. Three of the chains have been the focus of state and federal scrutiny, they observed.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

“One chain has been under scrutiny in several States for providing unnecessary services,” the authors wrote. “Thirty-one dentists whom we identified with questionable billing worked for this chain,” they added. The remark was footnoted with a reference to a June 2012 report, “The Business Behind Dental Treatment for America’s Poorest Children,” by David Health and Jill Rosenbaum for the Center for Public Integrity and Frontline that focused on the Georgia-based Kool Smiles dental chain. (See ‘Dollars and dentists:’ Investigating the dental care crisis in the U.S. and Complaints to attorneys general yield sources for dental investigation.)

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Students find new angles to cover at free 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.

Julie Drizin

Julie Drizin

The Journalism Center on Children & Families, formerly the Casey Journalism Center, is scheduled to close at the end of the year. Over the past 20 years, JCCF, based at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, has worked to help reporters do a better job of telling the stories of vulnerable people.

Now funding is running out, as JCCF’s director Julie Drizin explained in her announcement: “The College has concluded that this Center is not sustainable in the current economic climate.”

The center has offered grants, fellowships and other resources that have resulted in deeper coverage of health, justice and economic issues as they relate to children and families. In keeping with the center’s mission, Drizin has taught an undergraduate class at the college of journalism. Recently, she gathered a team of student reporters to cover a free two-day dental clinic sponsored by the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Center for Health Equity.

The student’s coverage of the 100-chair clinic resulted in a compelling assortment of stories that are packaged together on the JCCF website as part of the “On The Beat” feature. One of the most striking aspects of the students’ reporting is the variety of angles they managed to find while all covering the same event – angles that professional journalists might find useful.

In this Q&A for AHCJ, Drizin offers insights into how, as a teacher, she turned this free dental clinic into a window on the human condition for her class. She reflects upon the tradition of advocacy journalism. And she shares the best piece of advice she offered to her students as they headed out to cover the event.

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, Ore., 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