Have you ever had a toothache that hurts so bad that you had to miss school or work to visit to the dentist? Maybe so or maybe not, but many Americans have. When you take a bird’s-eye view and look at all the people together with dental problems, you’ll find that dental issues aren’t just about one person’s discomfort. It’s a problem that affects all of society in terms of lost hours and productivity.
Dental problems are not uncommon. In fact for children, tooth decay is considered one of the most prevalent chronic diseases. It is found in more than 25% of children aged 2-5 years and in half of kids between 12 and 15. As for adults, 92% of those aged 20-64 have had decay in their permanent teeth, according to government statistics. While most health issues disproportionately affect those with lower incomes and levels of education, interestingly Americans with higher levels of income and education have had more decay. Meanwhile, untreated decay is found more readily in populations with lower education and income.
The effects of tooth decay ripples across society. Children are estimated to miss a total of 51 million hours per year because of oral health problems. These painful problems can lead to issues with eating and talking, and more severe consequences can include infections, malnourishment, and surgeries. Oral health issues also correlate to bad grades and social difficulties.
As for adults, American workers lose 164 million hours of work because of dental issues and visits to dental providers (although some of those visits may be preventative). Like with children, adult oral health problems can lead to unhealthy eating habits and poor nutrition. Medical researchers have also found links between dental (periodontal) disease and heart disease, lung disease, stroke and diabetes. Dental disease can even affect national security. It was found that 52% of new recruits had urgent dental issues that would prevent overseas deployment.
In Canada, studies revealed similar findings. It is believed that workers lost over 40 million hours each year because of dental problems and treatment, with people experiencing oral pain missing more work. In all, productivity losses amounted to some $1 billion.
The good news about dental disease, however, is that much of it is preventable. With good dental care habits and regular visits to dentists, orthodontists and other specialists as needed, as a society we can start reclaiming lost hours and productivity lost to dental disease.