Young, impoverished Americans are hoping for dentures.
According to a startling article published in USA Today this week, poor dental health among Appalachians has prompted people in their teens and 20s to seek out dentures.
Residents of the region have long suffered from worse than average oral hygiene. In 2007, the New York Times noted that more people under the age of 65 were living without teeth in Kentucky than in any other state, and that roughly half of the state's residents didn't have dental insurance at the time. The Times described the difficulties toothless women had finding jobs:
… about half of the women who go through [a job-training program], most in their 40s, were missing teeth or had ones that were infected. As a result…they are shunned by employers, ashamed to go back to school and to be around younger peers and often miss work because of pain or complications of the infections.
Eight years later, things haven't gotten better. USA Today spoke to healthcare providers at a Virginia clinic, who painted a dismal picture:
Terry Dickinson, executive director of the Virginia Dental Association and founder of its Mission of Mercy program, recalled the youngest patient to have all his teeth extracted at [Remote Area Medical] was a 19-year-old man. Of nearly 50,000 extractions performed from 2000-2014 at the clinic, Dickinson said a growing number are among people in their 20s.
According to USA Today, several of the twenty-somethings who attended a recent Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic want dentures so that they can work in the service industry. And RAM does offer free dentures, but the waitlist is long.
And it may be harder for people without easy access to dental care to get it in the coming years. The Washington Post reports:
As of January 2013, about 45 million Americans were living in regions with shortages of dental care providers, especially in rural and urban areas. What's worse, the amount of dentists is expected to decrease in the coming years as many are approaching retirement.
On the other hand, it may be easier for young people to get dentures moving forward, if that's what they want. Dentist and president of the American College of Prosthodontists Frank Tuminelli told USA Today he thinks technology will spark production of cheaper dentures that get to patients faster. Business and engineering students are already developing a scanner that can complete a denture fitting in about 30 minutes. Let the denture disruptions begin.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.