Category Archives: Oral health

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, 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