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Tip sheets

Journalists and experts have written about covering oral health and presented discussions on the topic at AHCJ conferences and workshops. This is a collection of the most useful and relevant tips. Click the title of the tip sheet that interests you and you will be asked to login because these are available exclusively to AHCJ members.

Featured tip sheets

What reporters need to know about water fluoridation efforts

September 2019
For more than 70 years, communities across the United States have been supplementing naturally occurring fluoride in water supplies to promote oral health.

Nearly 75% of Americans – more than 211 million people – are served by community water fluoridation (CWF) programs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Since its beginnings, water fluoridation has stirred controversy, with opponents asserting that the practice amounts to forced medication and poses health risks including reduced intelligence. Here, Mary Otto provides background and presents the most relevant studies on the subject.

Covering a controversial study: How to dig deep on a deadline

August 2019
From the moment Tara Haelle saw the study — and editorial and editor’s note — among JAMA’s embargoed studies, she knew it would be a doozy. Certain topics arouse controversy simply by their existence, and water fluoridation is very high on that list.

So when she was assigned to write about the JAMA Pediatrics study finding a link between prenatal fluoride exposure and reduced IQ in preschoolers, "two things went through my mind: One, this is going to be covered horribly by some outlets and likely create unnecessary anxiety among parents, especially pregnant women (who have enough to worry about when it comes to do’s and don’ts). Two, I need to be one of those who gets it right."

Here, Haelle shares how she approached, reported and completed her own article, in case seeing her process is helpful for others when there’s another potentially controversial study to cover.


Look for additional tip sheets based on subject:

Access to dental care

Aging and oral health

Cancer

Dental assistants

Dental care costs

Dental hygienists 

Dental therapists

Diet and nutrition

Electronic cigarettes

Federal/state oversight of oral health

Fluoride

Insurance

International

Opioids

Oral health and minorities

Pediatric oral health

Periodontal disease

Rural oral health

Access to dental care

Efforts continue to add a Medicare dental benefit  

May 2019
Acknowledging that millions of Medicare beneficiaries have unmet oral health care needs, a diverse coalition of organizations, including Families USA, the American Dental Association, and the Santa Fe Group recently collaborated to study the idea of adding dental coverage to the program. Their white paper lays out a plan to add preventive and restorative dental services to the menu of medically necessary outpatient services currently covered under Medicare Part B.

Under the group’s scenario, a comprehensive dental benefit without dollar-value caps would cost the federal government $32.3 billion in the current year and raise the base premium for Part B benefits by an estimated $14.50 per month.

But dental coverage is not the only important benefit left out of Medicare. The program also largely excludes vision and hearing services, other analysts have observed. 

Community health centers increasingly go beyond primary care

April 2019
Factors including the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid in a number of states have contributed to rising revenues and burgeoning caseloads for community health centers. During this boom, many clinics have broadened their primary care programs to include dental and mental health services, researchers at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found.

Issues to consider when reporting on oral health during pregnancy

November 2018
Maintaining good oral health during pregnancy is important to the overall health of women as well as their children, an interdisciplinary team of health care experts stressed in a respected 2012 national consensus statement on the topic.

“Evidence suggests that most infants and young children acquire caries-causing bacteria from their mothers,” said the authors of report sponsored by the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center at Georgetown University.

Learn more about the benefits of good oral health during pregnancy and the obstacles that many women face in obtaining care. 

Oral health stories to look for in 2017

May 2017
This year's panel on oral health at Health Journalism 2017 offered a wide-ranging discussion of important stories unfolding in the world of oral health, including potential changes to Medicaid, possible changes in funding for CHIP and changing models of dental care.

For background that will help you learn more about these many unfolding stories and how they might impact people in your state and community, here are some useful resources.

Understand how changes to health care law could affect dental benefits

July 2017
While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) only imperfectly addressed American's wide lack of dental coverage, oral health advocates and analysts have applauded progress in getting oral health benefits to more Americans under the health care reform law.

With the possible revamping or dismantling of the law, concerns are being raised that dental benefits could be lost. Learn more about how dental benefits are handled through Medicaid and some exchanges and how such benefits could be affected.

Covering gaps in dental care for low-income children

September 2016
Maggie Clark’s "Two Million Kids" series for the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune has explored many facets of the state’s troubled Medicaid program: the dearth of preventive and specialty care in many communities, the problems faced by providers, the decade-long legal battle to reform the system.

Clark also looked at the shortage of oral health care services for poor children in Florida. Here she offers story ideas, background and sources of data to help other reporters cover oral health in low-income children.

Resources for reporting on the dental health crisis among poor adults 

May 2016
Adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) are three times more likely to have untreated tooth decay than adults with incomes above 400 percent of the FPL.

More than one third of poor elders have lost all their teeth – compared with 16 percent of those with incomes at or above 200 percent of the FPL. These and other facts come as reminders that poor oral health places a disproportionate burden upon poor adults in the United States, the nonpartisan Medicaid and CHIP Access and Payment Commission concluded in a report to Congress on the status of adult Medicaid benefits around the country.

These resources can help your reporting on dental care access challenges

April 2016
Here is some background and other resources that may aid you when developing stories in your area about this important social determinants of health issue. More than one-third of Americans face “serious challenges” in obtaining dental care, for reasons that include high cost and lack of insurance, too few providers accepting Medicaid patients and a variety of mobility and transportation problems, according to a recent report sponsored by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Covering free dental clinics

October 2014
Recently Julie Drizin, who directs the Journalism Center on Children & Families (JCCF), gathered a team of student reporters to cover a free two-day dental clinic sponsored by the University of Maryland School of Public Health.  The dental clinic, which was held on the university’s basketball court with support from organizations including Mission of Mercy, aimed to provide $1 million in dental care to poor and uninsured adults. The student’s coverage of the 100-chair clinic resulted in a compelling assortment of stories that are packaged together on JCCF’s website as part of the regular “On The Beat” feature.

As Drizin observed in a Q & A on the project, covering these events can be challenging.

Tips on covering dental health care and access to care

Just as with other aspects of health care, people are affected by economic, structural, geographic and cultural factors that limit access to dental health care. This tip sheet is a collection of resources, including taped panel discussions, tip sheets, articles and contest questionnaires on reporting on dental health.

Moves to address access to dental care

This panel, at Health Journalism 2012, looked at the devastating effects of a lack of dental care, what populations are most likely to go without care and some solutions that are being tried out in some states, such as Minnesota and Alabama. A number of story ideas were offered by the panelists and can be found in this article about the panel and in a presentations from Shelly Gehshan, M.P.P., director, Pew Children’s Dental Campaign, Pew Center on the States about newsworthy issues; and one from Michael Helgeson, D.D.S., chief executive officer, Apple Tree Dental about dental therapists.

State of Decay

Eric Eyre, a health reporter at The Charleston (W.V.) Gazette, wrote an award-winning series about dental health care, "State of Decay." For more information, see his tip sheet, an article about how he reported the project and the contest questionnaire about how he reported the series.

Aging and oral health

Consider these issues when reporting on local dental services for senior citizens 

August 2017
Is the lack of dental care for senior citizens a concern in your area? Have health officials in your state explored the consequences of the shortage of dental care for community-dwelling seniors, or those living in nursing homes? Is a nonprofit or community organization taking a creative approach to meeting the need?

The nonprofit Oral Health America periodically publishes a state-by-state report card that analyzes oral health among elders. How did your state do on the most recent “State of Decay” report card? 

How multigenerational grandfamilies in America are impacting oral health

January 2017
The prevalence of multigenerational grandfamilies in America is impacting the oral health of both grandparents and the children they are raising, according to the findings of a recent survey conducted on behalf of Oral Health America.

There are probably grandfamilies in your community who would be willing to speak about the multigenerational challenges and rewards they have encountered in finding care and staying healthy.

As you report on the effort to add a dental benefit to Medicare, here are some things to keep in mind.

Resources address oral health issues facing disabled, elderly and other special-needs patients

December 2015
Malissa Savage, a community health worker who works with people in need of dental care, notes that variations in physical ability, mental capacity and behavior often call for flexibility and creativity by the individual and their caregivers.

Savage works for Allegany Health Right, a Cumberland, Maryland-based safety-net dental care provider for low-income, uninsured/underinsured adults. During a recent opportunity to observe Savage in action teaching, I learned about a number of resources will be useful to you in writing about the challenges and benefits of good home dental care for vulnerable adults.

Oral health is a significant factor in overall well-being in seniors

October 2013
Good oral health is a strong indicator of good overall health in older adults. It makes sense that nutritional intake is better when a person has all or most of their teeth. Poor oral health, on the other hand, is negatively linked to obesity, sleep apnea, poorer chronic disease management, higher LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, malnutritionlow self esteem, and other physiological problems.

A 2011 study assessed geriatric oral health of 386 seniors, and compared physical factors including body mass index, handgrip strength, and one-leg standing time with eyes open – all considered strong indicators of general health status among older adults. They found that oral health scores “are significantly associated with” muscle strength in the elderly, which in turn, affects their activities of daily living.

Cancer

Tips on reporting about the changing nature of HPV-related cancers  

January 2019
Ever since actor Michael Douglas used his battle with throat cancer in 2013 to help raise awareness about the disease, more has been learned about men’s particular vulnerability to HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers, Marie McCullough reported in a recent story for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the August 2018 report, Trends in Human Papillomavirus-Associated Cancers – United States, 1999-2015, federal researchers charted the climb of new HPV-related cancer cases in the U.S. from 30,115 in 1999 to 43,371 by 2015.

Dental assistants

Are dental assistants in your state expanding their scope of practice


Image by University of the Fraser Valley via flickr.

March 2014
There are more than 300,000 dental assistants at work across America and their ranks are expected to increase 25 percent in the next decade, as a result of the recognition of the link between oral health and overall health.

Their work often includes helping dentists with procedures, taking and developing X-rays, preparing and sterilizing  instruments, making appointments, keeping records, and giving patients post-operative instructions.

But from state to state, duties, credentialing, and training standards vary widely.

Oral health topic leader Mary Otto provides some background, the latest news on what's happening in various states and links to help reporters learn what changes may be in the works in their state – just in time for Dental Assistants Recognition Week, March 2-8.

Dental care costs

Charge It: Patients Rack Up Dental Care Debt

2009 third-place winner, Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism
Kelley Weiss, Capital Public Radio

Weiss looked into the dental credit cards issue because of a proposed piece of legislation to protect consumers from signing up for a credit card unknowingly or getting charged for services they did not receive. In addition to these problems with the cards, Capital Public Radio found the California Dental Association was getting paid to endorse these cards.

Dental hygienists

Expanding use of dental hygienists continues to be a state-by-state battle

October 2018
In some cases, struggles over restrictions in state dental practice acts have pitted dental hygiene and health advocacy groups against state dental boards and professional organizations representing dentists.

In a few significant cases, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), under its charge to protect the health care marketplace from unfair competition and to ensure consumer access to care, has supported easing restrictions.

The FTC offers some comments on the topic in a new Pew policy brief.

Dental hygienists working to expand their role in oral health

Organization leaders are determined to further expand hygienists’ freedom to work in the field. And they say that efforts to enable hygienists to become mid-level dental providers trained to drill and extract teeth are gaining momentum nationwide.Millions of Americans are going without dental care. Some lack insurance or money to pay for services. Others are too young or old or disabled to get themselves to a dentist’s office. Still others live in poor or isolated places where providers are in short supply. Dental hygienists who gathered in Nashville June 17-23 for the 92nd annual session of the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA), stress they are ready and willing to help get care to people who now lack it.

Dental hygienists' workforce is shifting, growing

July 2013
In June, dental hygienists celebrated the 100th anniversary of their profession.

It was in 1913 that a Bridgeport, Conn., dentist, Dr. Alfred Fones, opened the world’s first dental hygiene school. The first dental hygienist was Fones’ cousin and chairside assistant Irene Newman.

Today, more than  181,000 dental hygienists are at work in the United States,  according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The work of these dental auxiliaries has typically centered upon offering preventive services such as cleaning teeth, applying dental sealants and fluoride treatments, screening for oral cancer and offering oral health education. 

But much about this female-dominated profession has been changing in recent years.

Dental therapists

Background and resources for covering the dental therapist movement

March 2019
The dental therapist model got its start in the 1920s in New Zealand and is now well-established in many developed countries, including the U.K., Australia and the Netherlands.

In 2009, Minnesota became the first state government to pass legislation authorizing the model. Dental therapists are now working in underserved areas of the state. Maine and Vermont also have laws in place that allow dental therapists, although they are not yet working in those states. Dental therapist programs have been launched by tribal communities in Washington and Oregon.

Other states are considering giving the model a try.

“States such as Florida, New Mexico, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin are now considering legislation,” wrote Jane Koppelman, senior manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ dental campaign in this January 2019 column, Efforts to Expand Access to Oral Health Care to Continue in 2019.

Momentum grows to establish dental therapists; what about your state?

Organized dental groups, including the American Dental Association have fought the model, contending that only dentists have the training to perform what are termed irreversible procedures such as drilling and filling teeth.February 2015
Mid-level dental providers are at work in countries from the United Kingdom to Malaysia. Here in the United States, advocates are pushing hard to get states to enact laws that would open the way for dental therapists to get care to people who might otherwise go without it.

Even so, dental therapists, who provide care under the general supervision of dentists, are now treating patients in tribal areas of Alaska as well as in poor communities in the state of MinnesotaMaine has also passed legislation and is moving forward with therapists.

The dental therapist project: Expanding care to every community

June 2014
David Jordan, project director of Community Catalys’st Dental Access Project, spoke on the panel "Poor oral health: What's the cost?" at the 2014 Rural Health Journalism Workshop. His presentation offers an overview of the shortage of dentists, results of an oral health survey of children, and emergency department visits for dental problems. He also explains the dental therapy model.

Diet and nutrition

A road map for exploring the crossroads of nutrition and oral health

July 2016
An apple a day keeps the doctor away – providing we can eat it.

Oral health predicts whole body health, and is one of the 12 leading indicators for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 initiative. Research aimed at gaining a fuller understanding of the relationships between oral and systemic diseases and conditions continues.

The World Health Organization emphasizes the role diet and nutrition play in oral health, including its influence on craniofacial development, risk of oral infections, cancer and dental and periodontal disease.

Nutritionist and writer Melinda Hemmelgarn offers some things that journalists should know to raise awareness of risk, lead consumers to care and promote the critical role of diet and nutrition in protecting oral health.

Resources for reporting on the latest dietary guidelines and oral health

January 2016
As federal officials recommend that Americans limit their sugar intake to help prevent systemic and oral disease, researchers continue to explore how the relationship between diet and tooth decay works.

It’s not the stuff of snappy headlines. Still, this new edition of the national dietary guidelines is the first to set a quantitative recommended limit on sugar consumption. And leaders at the American Dental Association, in comments submitted during the development phase of the new guidelines, found oral health news to applaud.

Mary Otto, AHCJ's core topic leader on oral health, runs down some of the latest research on the relationship between sugar and tooth decay and suggests some questions that could guide your reporting on this topic.

Electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes come with risk of 'devastating' fire or explosion

February 2018
Several reports have looked at the risks of fire and explosions related to electronic cigarettes, with a case in Hawaii getting the latest attention.

Mary Otto summarizes and links to the reports, provides an overview of the problem and the regulatory bodies involved, as well as some information about the public health implications of e-cigarettes.

Federal/state oversight of oral health

What you should know about the state of safe disposal of dental mercury

March 2017
Dental amalgam is the material at the center of the National Resources Defense Council’s mercury rule lawsuit. It is a mixture of mercury and powdered metals, such as silver, tin, copper and zinc, that is defined and regulated as a medical device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While dental amalgam has been found to emit low levels of mercury vapor, it is considered safe for most dental patients over the age 6. The current FDA rules on amalgam safety date from 2009. However, health officials worldwide long have had serious concerns about the environmental impact when amalgam waste is disposed of after a procedure.

High Court and new regulatory guidance presents opportunity to examine licensing boards

Licensing boards regulate hundreds of occupations across the country, everything from medicine and law to bee-keeping and fortune telling. Often the boards are comprised of members of the profession they are regulating. And as in the North Carolina case, there are times when these regulatory bodies run afoul of federal antitrust laws intended to ensure consumer choice and greater access to services.When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in February that the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners lacked the authority to regulate teeth-whitening businesses, experts observed that the decision might have impact far beyond the world of dentistry.

What do we know about the bacteria inhabiting our mouth?

Science recently revealed a fascinating new fact about romantic intimacy: a couple exchanges 80 million bacteria during the average French kiss.

Image: Alan via flickr.

The Dutch study “Shaping the Oral Microbiota Through Intimate Kissing,” which was published in the journal Microbiome, suggests that a shared microbiota is able to develop in the mouths of partners.

The study got quite a bit of attention from the press. And there will be plenty of other tales to tell, as researchers delve deeper into the intricate workings of the microbial communities that inhabit various regions of our bodies, including our mouths.

Research examines impact of soda taxes on oral health


Image: Rex Sorgatz via flickr.

November 2014
Is there a soda tax debate coming to your community? The potential for such taxes 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. Mary Otto has collected relevant research and resources for reporters who might be called on to cover soda taxes.

Understanding the legal battles over teeth-whitening


Mary Otto

Is there a teeth-whitening story in your state?

Now might be a good time to take a look at this widely-contentious issue.

A long feud between North Carolina’s state dental board and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services 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.

Dental whitening has grown into a multi-billion dollar business and the struggle over whether non-dentists should be allowed to bleach teeth has been playing out across the country in recent years.

Guide to federal agencies that oversee safety of oral health and dental care

January 2014
One of the major dental dramas of 2013 was a story followed closely by Tulsa World reporter Shannon Muchmore.

Early in the year, an inspection at the office of a local oral surgeon, W. Scott Harrington, raised concerns that lax sanitation practices had put patients at risk. Widespread testing followed and health officials announced that a former patient had contracted hepatitis C while receiving care at his office.

Muchmore stayed in constant contact with health officials and her reports came as a reminder that the CDC is just one of the federal bodies charged with overseeing and regulating the safety of America’s dental care system. Here is a look at a few of these agencies, with links to information about how their work relates to dental care. You might want to use them as resources to expand the focus of your local stories.

Does the state have teeth to discipline dentists?

2010 entry, Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism
James T. Mulder, The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard

One story in Mulder's body of work submitted finds that New York rarely takes disciplinary action against dentists, even one deemed a public threat.

Enough Scrutiny in Dental Deaths?

2008 entry, Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism
Carol Smith, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Smith's reporting looks at the consistency and thoroughness of the state review process in three deaths that were related to dental care, finding that the public has no way of knowing a death occurred, how well it was investigated or why the investigation was closed without resorting to full-fledged public records requests.

State of Decay: West Virginia's Oral Health Crisis

2007 first-place winner, Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism
Eric Eyre, The Charleston (W.V.) Gazette
The series revealed the abysmal state of dental health in West Virginia. The newspaper spotlighted people suffering with swollen faces, toothaches, gaping cavities, painful abscesses, lip cancer, gum infections and teeth cracked off because of an unsuccessful attempt at do-it-yourself dentistry. West Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of older adults who have had all their natural teeth removed. [Tip sheet]

Fluoride

Covering a controversial study: How to dig deep on a deadline

August 2019
From the moment Tara Haelle saw the study — and editorial and editor’s note — among JAMA’s embargoed studies, she knew it would be a doozy. Certain topics arouse controversy simply by their existence, and water fluoridation is very high on that list.

So when she was assigned to write about the JAMA Pediatrics study finding a link between prenatal fluoride exposure and reduced IQ in preschoolers, "two things went through my mind: One, this is going to be covered horribly by some outlets and likely create unnecessary anxiety among parents, especially pregnant women (who have enough to worry about when it comes to do’s and don’ts). Two, I need to be one of those who gets it right."

Here, Haelle shares how she approached, reported and completed her own article, in case seeing her process is helpful for others when there’s another potentially controversial study to cover.

Looking deeper into the promise of silver diamine fluoride

August 2016
This appears to be promising news as “Until now, no option for the treatment of dental caries in the United States besides restorative dentistry has shown substantial efficacy,” wrote the authors.August 2016
A University of California San Francisco (UCSF) study published earlier this year laid out a protocol for the use of silver diamine fluoride (SDF) for arresting the disease process that drives tooth decay.

Because it has been classified as a topical fluoride, dental auxiliaries are also beginning to explore the use of silver diamine fluoride. The Oregon Board of Dentistry moved to allow dental auxiliaries to apply silver diamine fluoride soon after it was cleared for marketing by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014, Donna Domino reported for DrBicuspid.com.

Learn more about this product so you can report on whether it's being offered as an option by dental care providers in your area.

What reporters need to know about water fluoridation efforts

September 2019
For more than 70 years, communities across the United States have been supplementing naturally occurring fluoride in water supplies to promote oral health.

Nearly 75% of Americans – more than 211 million people – are served by community water fluoridation (CWF) programs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Since its beginnings, water fluoridation has stirred controversy, with opponents asserting that the practice amounts to forced medication and poses health risks including reduced intelligence. Here, Mary Otto provides background and presents the most relevant studies on the subject.

Photo by <a href=
Photo by Neal Jennings

Insurance

Efforts continue to add a Medicare dental benefit  

May 2019
Acknowledging that millions of Medicare beneficiaries have unmet oral health care needs, a diverse coalition of organizations, including Families USA, the American Dental Association, and the Santa Fe Group recently collaborated to study the idea of adding dental coverage to the program. Their white paper lays out a plan to add preventive and restorative dental services to the menu of medically necessary outpatient services currently covered under Medicare Part B.

Under the group’s scenario, a comprehensive dental benefit without dollar-value caps would cost the federal government $32.3 billion in the current year and raise the base premium for Part B benefits by an estimated $14.50 per month.

But dental coverage is not the only important benefit left out of Medicare. The program also largely excludes vision and hearing services, other analysts have observed. 

Resources for tracking the Children’s Health Insurance Program

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (formerly known as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program) has enjoyed broad support through much of its history, and state officials have received reassurances from Capitol Hill that funding for the program will continue.

But over the past summer, as Congressional leaders remained divided over many issues, children’s advocates became  “increasingly anxious” about the program’s future, Tricia Brooks, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said in a September commentary in Health Affairs.

Ideas on covering how dental benefits expansion is working under the ACA   

What does recent federal data reveal about how dental benefits are working on federal and state insurance marketplaces so far? In “Dental Benefits in Health Insurance Marketplaces: An Update on Policy Considerations” the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) takes a look. 

In one perhaps surprising development, young adults aged 26-34 have turned out to be the group most likely to purchase stand-alone dental coverage on the federally-facilitated marketplace, with 302,000 individuals (20 percent of enrollees).

By comparison, 14 percent of the enrollees, or roughly 100,000 were children aged 0-18, according to the most recent marketplace data reported  by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Are young adults in your state obtaining dental benefits? Are they satisfied with their coverage? Why aren’t more parents in your state purchasing dental coverage for their children?

International

How to cover efforts in your town to improve oral health around the world

I earlier wrote about a story by Sara Schilling of the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Washington, that offered her readers a glimpse into world of a local “adventure dentist.”

When dentist Bart Roach isn’t taking care of his own patients or helping at a local clinic serving the poor, he is traveling to faraway places such as Cambodia or Guatemala to help people who are suffering from oral disease. “You have an obligation to give back to your community and your global community,” Roach explained.

Opioids

Opioid epidemic: Focus turns to how dentists are treating pain

July 2019
In recent years, officials at the federal level have made a point of including dentists in their work to stem the flow of opioids. A leader in the effort, Vivek Murthy, M.D., who served as U.S. surgeon general under President Barack Obama, urged health care professionals – including dentists – to consider alternatives to opioids when helping patients to manage pain.

As the authors of a 2016 research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded, dentists had regularly prescribed opioids to treat post-extraction pain “despite evidence that a combination of nonsteroidal medications and acetaminophen may provide more effective analgesia for post-extraction pain.”

Mary Otto runs down the latest research, alternatives to using opioids for dental pain and offers an example of how to cover the story. 

How dental pain has contributed to the nation’s opioid epidemic  

August 2017
Dentists are among the leading prescribers of opioid pain medications in the country, according to numerous studies. The prescriptions often are written for patients after tooth extractions – including approximately 3 million mostly young adults who have wisdom teeth extracted each year. As awareness has grown about the risks of addiction, some in the dental profession have reassessed their prescribing habits.

In this tip sheet, find out what the research says about dental prescribing as well as how dental organizations have responded and steps that are being recommended to combat the problem.

Oral health and minorities

Resources address oral health issues facing disabled, elderly and other special-needs patients

Malissa Savage, a community health worker who works with people in need of dental care, notes that variations in physical ability, mental capacity and behavior often call for flexibility and creativity by the individual and their caregivers.

Savage works for Allegany Health Right, a Cumberland, Maryland-based safety-net dental care provider for low-income, uninsured/underinsured adults.

During a recent opportunity to observe Savage in action teaching, I learned about a number of resources will be useful to you in writing about the challenges and benefits of good home dental care for vulnerable adults.

Oral health and Hispanics 

New research , including a paper published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) finds a remarkable variety in the oral health status of American Hispanics from differing national and regional backgrounds. The August JADA paper, which examines periodontal (gum) disease, reveals significant differences in disease incidence among Americans identifying as Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican Central American and South American.Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, and they face a measurable disadvantage when it comes to oral health. They experience more oral disease than white Americans and often face barriers in getting care. Yet dentally speaking, they are far from a homogeneous group.  

Mary Otto shares some tips on covering oral health issues in the Hispanic community.

Pediatric oral health

Issues to consider when reporting on oral health during pregnancy

November 2018
Maintaining good oral health during pregnancy is important to the overall health of women as well as their children, an interdisciplinary team of health care experts stressed in a respected 2012 national consensus statement on the topic.

“Evidence suggests that most infants and young children acquire caries-causing bacteria from their mothers,” said the authors of report sponsored by the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center at Georgetown University.

Learn more about the benefits of good oral health during pregnancy and the obstacles that many women face in obtaining care. 

Tips for reporting on the state of dental sealant programs in your community May 2017

Professionally applied dental sealants offer effective protection against tooth decay. Moreover, progress has been made over recent decades in getting these useful treatments to kids.

Still, the work is far from done. Overall, fewer than half of American children have received the thin plastic coatings applied to the biting surfaces of newly-erupted molars. Particularly concerning to health officials and oral health advocates is the shortage of sealants among low-income children, who face an elevated risk of disease and suffer from higher rates of untreated decay.

Now that a recent report has renewed the call for communities to bolster their support of school-based sealant programs, this might be a good time to see how your state is doing regarding getting sealants to kids. Is there a school sealant program you can visit in your community? If there isn’t one, why not? This tip sheet offers resources to help you take a closer look.

Oral health stories to look for in 2017

May 2017
This year's panel on oral health at Health Journalism 2017 offered a wide-ranging discussion of important stories unfolding in the world of oral health, including potential changes to Medicaid, possible changes in funding for CHIP and changing models of dental care.

For background that will help you learn more about these many unfolding stories and how they might impact people in your state and community, here are some useful resources.

Here’s what you should know about the homeopathic teething tablet controversy

February 2017
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Jan. 27 warning about homeopathic teething tablets follows a 2016 announcement after investigators concluded that new reports of adverse events showed similarities to cases observed back in 2010 when the agency cautioned consumers against using one popular brand, Hyland’s Teething Tablets.

Following the 2016 warning, national pharmacy chain CVS announced a voluntary recall of all brands of homeopathic teething products and removed them from store shelves.

In November, Raritan Pharmaceuticals, a contract manufacturer for Homeolab USA, said that it was voluntarily recalling homeopathic teething and earache remedies containing belladonna extract due to the potential for variation in the content of belladonna extract in the products. Hyland's earlier had issued a press release defending the safety of its products.

Learn more about the teething process, homeopathy and how doctors advise parents to help their children get through this process without turning to potentially dangerous treatments.

How multigenerational grandfamilies in America are impacting oral health

January 2017
The prevalence of multigenerational grandfamilies in America is impacting the oral health of both grandparents and the children they are raising, according to the findings of a recent survey conducted on behalf of Oral Health America.

There are probably grandfamilies in your community who would be willing to speak about the multigenerational challenges and rewards they have encountered in finding care and staying healthy.

As you report on the effort to add a dental benefit to Medicare, here are some things to keep in mind.

‘Back-to-school’ a good time to focus on sports-related dental injuries

With millions of school athletes headed back to playing fields across the country, protecting teeth from loss and damage should be on the minds of parents, coaches, teachers and players, too.

Mary Otto has compiled some background, information and resources to help reporters who might be covering sports-related injuries or risks.

This tip sheet includes guidelines for handling dental trauma, a link to a database with guidance on dental injuries, journal articles and organizations with specific guidelines.

Getting stories out of NHANES

Bruce Dye
Bruce Dye

April 2015
The most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) combines face-to-face interviews and physical examinations of a nationally representative sample of about 5,000 people each year. This tip sheet offers highlights from the new NHANES assessments, which provide a fresh look at the status of the oral health of over 40 million American children and 32 million adolescents and teens.

They also offer insights gleaned from a recent webinar hosted by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Oral Health. The program features NIDCR dental epidemiology officer Bruce A. Dye, D.D.S., M.P.H., lead author of the new report, as well as previous reports on the NHANES.

What stories can you cover for National Children's Dental Health Month?

February 2015
It started small, as a single day in Cleveland.

Feb. 3, 1941, was dedicated to spotlighting the dental needs of children. It turned out there was lots more to say and do.

Over the years, February has evolved into National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Maybe a story related to the oral health of children is unfolding in your community. And February is a good time to tell it.

To help you get started on your reporting, here is a tip sheet that draws upon insights and information exchanged during a Jan 23 AHCJ webinar.

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

August 2014
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.

Applying sealants

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. 

Children sedated, anesthetized for dental procedures: What reporters should know

Pediatric dentistry
Image by ktpupp via Flickr.

February 2014
A 3-year old Hawaiian girl died in January, a month after she lapsed into a coma while undergoing a dental procedure. The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs is investigating what went wrong and the child's parents are suing. Questions have been raised about the level of sedatives administered to the 38-pound girl.

An increasing number of children are being placed under sedation or anesthesia for dental care, experts say. Children with diagnoses of extensive decay who may not be able to sit still for care are sometimes placed under general anesthesia before undergoing treatment.

But how often is this done, what kinds of sedatives and anesthesia are used, what's the training for dentists who use sedatives and what are the risks involved? We get some answers from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

A different story in each state: Pediatric dental benefits on the health insurance exchanges  

October 2013
When it comes to the new health insurance exchanges, every state has its own pediatric dental benefits story.

In the next five years, an estimated 3 million children are expected to become eligible to receive private dental benefits through the insurance marketplaces set up by the states. They will be among the approximately 8.7 million children who stand to gain extensive dental coverage through the ACA.

How is your state coping with the challenges of offering them? And will the benefits result in getting more kids the dental care they need? Oral health topic leader Mary Otto explains the issues and why states could be making some controversial decisions in implementing this part of the law.

The Dental Epidemic of Alameda County

2011 third-place winner, Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism 
Rose Tibayan, John Fowler and Ron Acker, KTVU-Oakland, Calif.

Alameda County's children have some of the worst teeth in the nation as documented in 2006, when a dental health assessment outlined the crisis in a study. The reporters wanted to produce a story to update the progress that had been made over the last five years. A conversation with the county dental health administrator, however, revealed that the problem had actually gotten worse – "epidemic" in proportion – as he says on camera. The series attempts to answer three questions key to understanding the scale of the epidemic:

    1. How bad is the problem?

    2. What organic factors contributed to the cause and transmission of children's dental disease over the years?

    3. What is the community doing about the crisis in the wake of heavy budget cuts in the state's healthcare programs?

State Lags in Dental Health Care for Children

2010 entry, Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism
Laurie A. Udesky writing for The New York Times 

This investigation revealed that although dental disease is preventable, it is not unusual for California children to suffer crippling and disabling cases of it. Through interviews with dentists and oral surgeons, and data from little-known reports, Udesky found that each year thousands of children as young as 4, typically from disadvantaged families, undergo hospitalization for emergency dental care, including root canals and extractions of baby teeth. Left untreated, dental disease can be life threatening. She found that the reasons for what one expert described as a dental disease "epidemic" among California children that is "absurdly pervasive" are multilayered.

School-Based Dental Care

2009 entry, Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism
Bryan Thompson, Kansas Public Radio

When a family is struggling to make ends meet, dental care is often seen as expendable. Even so, children in one of the poorest communities in Kansas are getting oral health care, thanks to a unique collaboration between their school district and a safety net clinic 30 miles away.

Periodontal disease

How to improve your understanding of the link between periodontal health and systemic disease

Maggie ClarkNovember 2016
Advances in science are contributing to a growing appreciation of the interrelationships between oral and systemic conditions. Here are some resources to get you started in reporting on this trend in your community.

Periodontal (gum) disease is a recognized complication of diabetes.

August 2013
Beyond the fact that people with diabetes are more likely to suffer from periodontal disease, some studies point to a bi-directional relationship between the two diseases. They suggest that the presence of periodontal disease makes diabetes harder to control.

Oral health topic leader Mary Otto provides some background on the relationship between the diseases, the body's response and other conditions that research is pursuing.

Rural oral health

Poor oral health: What's the cost?

June 2014
Phillip T. Marucha, D.M.D., Ph.D., dean of the Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Dentistry, spoke on the panel "Poor oral health: What's the cost?" at the 2014 Rural Health Journalism Workshop. His presentation offers statistics on access to dental care providers, emergency department visits for dental problems, how oral health affects overall health and what it costs, as well as some of the barriers to care.

Out of reach: The rural health care gap

2010 entry, Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism
David Wahlberg, Wisconsin State Journal
This series examined challenges and possible solutions to providing health care in rural communities, mostly in Wisconsin but also in Kentucky, Montana, New Mexico and Tennessee. Critical access hospitals, the National Health Service Corps, J-1 visa waivers and other programs have helped ease rural health problems, but many obstacles remain. One part of the series finds that nine of 10 dentists in Wisconsin accept few or no Medicaid patients, and at least 10 rural counties have no substantial Medicaid dental care provider. One rural man contacted 20 dentists listed as Medicaid providers; none would take him. Statewide, 243 rural water systems have inadequate fluoride.