Author Archives: Mary Otto

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Lack of routine dental care under Medicare continues to rankle

Photo: Spazzy Max via Flickr

About 60 million Americans depend upon Medicare for their health care coverage. But the national health insurance program for retired and disabled people has never covered routine dental services. The gap represents a significant barrier to necessary care for a growing segment of the country’s population, experts say.

An estimated 65% of beneficiaries – nearly 37 million people on Medicare — are dentally-uninsured, according to an issue brief from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation published this spring. Continue reading

Reporter drew on life experience to report on inadequate prison dental care

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Much remains unknown about the oral health status of more than two million incarcerated Americans, but research suggests that many dental needs go unmet behind bars.

Reporting on the problem can be challenging. But in a recent project we wrote about, Keri Blakinger, who covers breaking news, prisons and the death penalty for the Houston Chronicle, found a way to document the desperate wait for dentures in Texas state prisons. Continue reading

Investigations put focus on infection control in dental offices

Photo: John Ong via Flickr

Two high-profile safety breaches have highlighted the importance of close adherence to infection control protocols in dental clinics and offices.

In both recent cases, patients have been advised to undergo testing for HIV and hepatitis B and C due to possible exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

In Seattle and nearby Vashon Island, news broke in early April that nearly 1,300 students face infection risks because equipment used in school clinics was improperly sterilized. Ten school-based dental clinics operated by Neighborcare, a local health center have been impacted by the safety breach. Continue reading

Freelancers, editors explore ethics, integrity and transparency

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJEditor Brendan Maher stressed that writers should always be transparent about potential conflicts of interest.

While their hearts and training may lie with traditional objective journalism, many freelancers take on additional writing assignments in order to make ends meet. But when do these non-journalistic jobs present real or potential conflicts of interest with journalism?  How should writers and their editors address the ethical questions that may arise? In an evolving media landscape, how do freelance journalists maintain objectivity – and integrity – while paying the bills? Continue reading

Advocates for dental therapists launch partnership

Photo: Kate Sumbler via Flickr

A new initiative launched by grassroots and tribal organizations aims to accelerate efforts to bring dental therapists to millions of Americans in communities where oral health services are scarce.

The National Partnership for Dental Therapy seeks to build visibility and support for midlevel dental workers, according to its organizers.

“Everyone, including the most vulnerable in our country and those in hard-to-reach areas, should have the opportunity to get basic oral health care,” said Tera Bianchi, program director with the nonprofit Community Catalyst, which is co-sponsoring the partnership together with the National Indian Health Board (NIHB). Continue reading

Community health centers expand beyond primary care

America’s first community health centers opened their doors in 1965 and the system has been growing ever since.

Today, about 1,400 federally-supported health center programs provide primary care to an estimated 28 million patients – roughly 1 in 12 U.S. residents.

These clinics have always focused on reaching underserved populations. That has meant finding ways to bridge the financial, cultural and geographic barriers that contribute to the nation’s deep health care disparities. Continue reading