We've talked a lot about health equity with the pandemic disproportionately impacting lower income and communities of color.
Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a new initiative to deliver an important preventive health care tool to rural and smaller neighborhoods.
It’s a new fluoride tablet system that works similar to chlorine tablets in a pool, but it's designed for small public water systems.
Currently, about 35% of Americans don't have access to properly fluoridated water. That's mostly because they live in an area that doesn't have the money or technology to maintain these systems.
The new tablet system could reach nearly 32,000 small public utilities, often in rural or undeserved areas that serve about 19 million people.
Research has long shown that fluoridated water reduces cavities in children and adults, and the pandemic has likely enhanced America’s dental health and equity problem.
“Their hygiene practices have changed. Their dietary habits have changed. They are snacking more, snacking on sugar products more. And some unfortunately have chosen to defer going to the dentist,” said Dr. Howard Pollick, with the American Dental Association and the UCSF School of Dentistry.
The American Dental Association sees this new fluoride tablet system as a game changer for overall dental health and equity.
On top of access to dental care, some communities have barriers to basic messaging about good oral hygiene, like brushing twice a day.
“It’s very important that they be seen by members of the public as somebody that they can trust, so maybe who speaks their language, maybe who is a similar age, similar race or ethnicity,” said Dr. Pollick.
A federal health study found a daunting shortage of dentists of color. Less than 10% are Black or Hispanic. It's something that is slowly improving, but bridging the gap requires larger, more purposeful approaches, including an overhaul of the current economics of dental practice.