The US Healthcare Crisis: It’s Time for Dental Professionals to Step Up

The Crisis

The state of the healthcare system in the United States is one that should frighten us all. Medical costs just keep rising, insurance benefits keep getting cut and tens of millions of people—even those with health insurance—find themselves unable to access a dentist or a doctor when they need to.

In the U.S. we spend on average $9,900 a year per person on healthcare, which is 2.5 times more than Japan, a country with an average life expectancy of over 83 (U.S. is 79).

By the time you are done reading this sentence, someone will have had a heart attack. By the time you are done with this article, someone will have died from heart disease related complications.

The worst part about this is that there really is nobody to blame. There is no one sole responsible party for this chaos.

But I still challenge you, as a dental professional, to stand up with us and help fight this madness. Because believe it or not, you are in a place where you can have a significant impact on this crisis and really help people.

The Human Cost

By the time someone shows up at the emergency room after they have suffered a major heart attack, it’s almost too late to do anything about it. The things he or she could do to forgo this tragedy should have been done months ago.

Surgeons are good, but aside from replacing the heart altogether, there are a limited number of things they can do.

So it should come as no surprise that 1 out of every 4 American deaths (about 630,000) are due to heart disease.

The most effective way to fight this epidemic is through preventative treatment. Essentially, our goal is to stop a problem before it becomes a problem. And dental health professionals are in a uniquely qualified position to do this.

About 47% of Americans suffer from periodontitis, and a recent study by Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat, Professor of Periodontology and Dean Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania School Of Dentistry showed some startling data about the correlation of Periodontitis and major health problems in the body.

According to her research, those who routinely sought periodontitis treatment and preventative maintenance saw a significant decrease in annual hospitalization rates:

  • 2% reduction for those with stroke
  • 6% reduction for those with heart disease
  • 4% reduction for those with diabetes

Which alludes to the possibility that there is a strong correlation between these diseases and the overall wellbeing of the average American’s oral health.

The Monetary Cost

It should come as no surprise that the less someone is hospitalized for a serious condition, the less they end up spending on hospital costs to treat themselves. Heart disease alone costs U.S. citizens over $200 billion per year.

The same study conducted by Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat showed that when periodontal disease is treated, there is an annual reduction in hospital costs for all of the major diseases listed below:

  • $5,681 for members with cerebral vascular disease (stroke)
  • $1,090 for members with coronary artery disease (heart)
  • $2,840 for members with diabetes ($1,477 for diabetes outpatient drug costs*)

This is all compared to the median annual expenditure for a trip to the dentist at roughly $284.

It’s Time to Take A Stand

It is time for dental professionals to take a stand.

We must become clearly informed and we must hold ourselves accountable not only to ourselves and our patients, but to society as a whole.

We are in a very uniquely advantageous position to make a significant difference in the healthcare crisis in the U.S.

Our friends, neighbors, patients, society…even our profession needs us to step up and help others to improve their health and vitality. Because we know, now more than ever, that dental care helps you live a healthier life.


Jan Lazarus RDH, Certified Health Coach, is known as a thought provoking speaker, influencer, consultant and internationally recognized pioneer in the field of comprehensive continuing education in dentistry. As a principle and President of JP Consultants Institute, Jan has developed life changing curriculum for patients, dentists, hygienists and dental teams. The key foundational element of all of their programs since 1979 has been the understanding that the mouth is a “window” to overall health of the body.

Jan will be one of our presenters at the 2018 AAOSH annual meeting in Las Vegas. Register now and make sure to attend the hygiene panel!

Victoria Richards is a board member of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health. She can be reached by email here

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