BY HARMONIE CHARLAND College students and recent graduates in the Pioneer Valley are among the many Americans suffering from poor oral health.Twelve years have passed since the release of the U.S. Surgeon Generals report on the oral health crisis in America, yet many individuals continue to suffer with no access to dental insurance. Elms College graduate, 23-year-old Jessica Clough is one of them.
“If my teeth give me any sort of trouble I…I mean I try to take care of my teeth as best I can, but if they start to hurt I just pretty much ignore it because I definitely can’t afford to visit the dentist without insurance,” said Clough.
According to the Surgeon Generals report, 108 million Americans have no access to dental insurance. Putting off regular visits to the dentist and ignoring oral infections could lead to more serious health complications including heart decease, stroke and low birth weight.
Research continues to prove that oral health plays an essential part in a persons overall health, but many Americans continue to be uninformed and uninsured. Debra Hudak, a Registered Dental Hygienist at Valley Dentist, LLP in Hadley, Mass believes this is because oral health has yet to be recognized by the medical community.
“I doubt that the medical community is talking it up much. We in the dental community we knew all along I mean the mouth is connected to the rest of the body,” she said.
Before the birth of her first child in 1987, Hudak worked as a dental hygienist for University Health Services (UHS) dental clinic at The University Massachusetts Amherst. The full service clinic offered students and faculty reduced fee dental care including basic oral exams and triage services. Today the clinic no longer exists.
“At the university when a dental clinic was part of a health services everything…everything was there. It was like your one stop shopping for health care. It was really nice, and the ideal model would be that we would have that in communities,” said Hudak.
UMass Amherst is the largest university in the Pioneer Valley and by law is required to offer health insurance to all students who are not insured. The university is not required to offer dental insurance and doesn’t at this time. UHS Associate Director of Clinical Services Donna Yezierski suggests, “if students are interested in dental coverage they should advocate for it.”