Category Archives: Oral health

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.

Continue reading

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.

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.