Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality and the Struggle for Oral Health Care in America

Jun 5, 2017

As a journalist, Mary Otto got interested in access to dental care about ten years ago.

“I was standing at the hospital bedside of this boy. He and his brother were Medicaid beneficiaries, he was in the hospital because he has suffered very serious complications from an infected tooth. It has spread to his brain, and he had two brain surgeries; he was in the hospital for 6 weeks. He died. I wrote about his death and it turned out that there was a lot more to write about this sort of care.”

1/3 of Americans face significant barriers getting routine dental care

Otto is the author of a new book called Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America.

During this hour of River to River, Otto talks with host Ben Kieffer. Also joining the conversation is Peter Damiano, who is director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Iowa and a professor of preventive and community dentistry.

“This idea of oral health disparities does very much affect lower income communities in Iowa,” says Damiano. “When we expanded Medicaid, the state of Iowa opted to have dental as a part of that, so that helped. But there are a number of factors at play here. Do people have insurance coverage? Do they have access to a doctor that will accept that insurance?”