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Dental Health Survey Paints Bleak Picture For Low-Income Northern Va. Residents

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Survey shows low-income Northern Virginia residents have poorer health than higher-income residents.
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Survey shows low-income Northern Virginia residents have poorer health than higher-income residents.

 

Some health advocates are sounding an alarm about poor dental health among low-income residents.  

A first-of-its-kind survey commissioned by the Northern Virginia Health Foundation shows that 16 percent of low-income adults in the area have not gone to a dentist in more than five years, compared with just 3 percent of those with higher incomes.

Pat Mathews, president of the foundation, says the survey also shows that low-income adults rely much more heavily on emergency rooms for dental care.

"Emergency rooms are not where one should get their care, and by the time it gets to an emergency room issue, that means that there is a serious problem," says Mathews.

While the disparity in oral health between low-income and high-income adults may not be surprising, Mathews says the foundation hopes to repeat the survey every 3 to 4 years to see if the region is making progress. 

The foundation also wants to reinforce the link between oral health and overall health, so that physicians can educate their patients about oral health issues.

Mathews says another challenge for low-income residents in Virginia is limited Medicaid coverage for oral health. Virginia is one of 13 states where only emergency oral care is covered under the federal program. Basic care such as regular checkups or even root canals is not. 

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