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Lack of dental care can cause big problems

Lack of insurance, money and education deters minorities and uninsured persons in south Minneapolis from seeking or finding dental health care. Often perceived as a "luxury," dental health care is an important component in maintaining good health and preventing disease.

By Jessica Allen

Dr. Ryan Linder, the director of Southside Dental Clinic, a nonprofit clinic on 4243 S. Fourth Ave., provides dental care for people from multiple backgrounds in the Powderhorn neighborhood five days a week. He sees two trends that worry him: increased incidence of gum disease and tooth decay in infants and toddlers.

Many Minnesotans do not seek dental care regularly because they are uninsured and cannot afford the cost of dental care. Children in families that earn less than 200 percent of the poverty line are three times more likely to be uninsured than all children statewide, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Hispanic children are four times as likely to be uninsured than all Minnesota children.

Linder said he has seen more and more dental health issues in the Hispanic population in Powderhorn. Linder said that many Hispanic immigrants do not consume enough fluoride, which protects teeth from decay. Their home countries have poor water quality, so people drink bottled water which contains no fluoride. They often continue to do so once they are in the United States.

Additionally, Linder has seen several cases of "bottle rot" among Hispanic children. Decay of baby teeth can happen when children fall asleep with bottles in their mouths. Having milk or juice in their mouths increases the risk of tooth decay. Linder attributes the problem to lack of parental education.

Southside Dental Clinic accepts patients who are uninsured or are covered by Medicaid, government-funded health coverage. Patients who are uninsured can pay a sliding fee that is based upon income. South is one of only 12 community-based dental clinics in the state dedicated to serving low-income people.

In addition, Medicaid clients often still do not seek dental care regularly because many private dentists do not accept state insurance. About 25 percent of dentists in Minnesota do not accept Medicaid patients, according to the Minnesota Health Department. Dentists complain that the government insurance for poor families covers only 30 to 50 percent of the cost of treatment.

"In general, people think of it (dental care) as a luxury," Linder said. About 49 percent of people who earn less than $15,000 per year do not visit a dentist for regular cleaning, according to the Minnesota Health Department.

Delaying regular cleaning can lead to major oral diseases such as periodontal disease, which Linder sees frequently. Nationwide, periodontal disease is increasingly found among black and Hispanic populations; 38.6 percent of blacks and 33.5 percent of Hispanics nationwide have periodontal disease.

About 42 percent of people living below the federal poverty line have periodontal disease nationwide, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Gum disease has become a growing concern among dental professionals, because some studies indicate possible links between periodontal disease and heart disease, and between periodontal disease in pregnant women and preterm births.

Many clinics, including Southside Dental, provide pamphlets about periodontal disease, bottle rot, and various state insurance plan options. Additionally, Southside participated in the "Give Kids a Smile" program that offers free dental cleaning to children living below the poverty level last February. The program was sponsored by the Minnesota Dental Association, which conducts on-going campaigns about dental care and health issues in Minnesota.


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