Editorial Staff

Health: Don’t Just Grin And Bear It, Take Care of Your Teeth

In all the uproar that normally takes place after a discussion about the obesity rates of black women, it can be easy to forget that maintaining a healthy weight is only one component of health and well-being. Your dental health can also have a dramatic effect on your personal appearance, which an affect your self-esteem. But don’t think your teeth are just connected to looking good, dental problems which seem minor can turn into big major health concerns capable of killing you.

On February 25th, 2007, a 7th grader named Deamonte Driver from Prince George’s County, Maryland died after complications from a tooth abscess. Deamonte’s mother said the boy had been complaining for months about pain in his tooth, but his mother failed to take him to the doctor due to financial concerns–she said that she had been unable to find a dentist willing to accept Medicaid, the government medical insurance coverage for low-income people. When Deamonte’s pain finally became extremely severe, his mother took him to the emergency room where he was given medicine for a headache, sinusitis, and a dental abscess and sent home. Sadly, the intervention at the medical room were too little too late.

Deamonte’s condition continued to deteriorate, despite the medications prescribed to him, and he was rushed back to the hospital where it was discovered that the infection from the abscess has moved to his brain. To save Deamonte’s life, doctors performed two operations and the boy received eight weeks of additional care and therapy totaling about $250,000, but it was all too late. Deamonte died from long-term lack of routine dental care and a dental extraction that may have cost less than $100.

The story that led up to Deamonte’s tragic death is all too common for African-Americans; many blacks suffer from poor dental health and lack of preventive services, even from a young age. The US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, notes some unfortunate statistics regarding African-American dental health.

African American children are 40% less likely to have preventive dental sealants than do their White classmates.

The percentage of people of all ages who had untreated caries was substantially higher for African Americans than for Whites.

Among adults aged 35 to 44 years, 40% African Americans as compared to 23% of Whites have tooth decay.

African Americans are more likely than Whites to have teeth extracted.

A greater percentage of African Americans 18 years and older have missing teeth when compared Whites.

African American males have the highest incidence rate of oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers in the United States compared with women and other racial/ethnic groups.

In 2004, 30% of African Americans had annual dental visits, as compared to 50% of the White population.

Deamonte Driver’s story illustrates the importance of dental health to overall health and well-being. His story ended tragically, but your’s doesn’t have to. Take care of your teeth.

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