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Coloradans call dental health important, but cite barriers

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Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) Oral health has been called the window into your overall health. Problems in the mouth can alert providers to underlying medical conditions, and regular visits to the dentist are seen as essential for keeping bacteria under control.

A new Colorado Consumer Health Initiative survey showed while many Coloradans want to maintain good oral health, they face numerous barriers.

Priya Telang, communications manager for the group, said cost is the biggest obstacle.

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"The people who are impacted most by lack of access to affordable dental care are Black or Indigenous people of color, folks with low income and people in rural areas, compared to white, affluent Coloradans," Telang outlined.

Despite their desire for dental care, Coloradans report high rates of poor or below-average oral health, including mouth pain, self-consciousness about mouth appearance, and changes to their day-to-day lives caused by their dental-health challenges. Three in four Coloradans said going to the dentist is just too expensive. Other top concerns include lack of child care, lack of insurance and difficulty finding a provider.

Nearly half of Coloradans surveyed said when they needed immediate care, they were told they had to wait more than a month for an appointment. Others report wait times for routine cleanings were at least two months. One common assumption among oral health providers and insurers is people do not want to prioritize their oral health. But Telang said the survey results differed.

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"Approximately 74% of those surveyed said that oral health care is very important," Telang reported. "And a lot of the times, those that were surveyed cited not being able to get time off work to go, or their lack of insurance or income."

Telang hopes the survey will be helpful to educate state lawmakers, and find policy solutions to remove barriers to care for those most at risk. Telang added dental providers also can play a role. Many Coloradans seeking care report facing stigma and judgment by dental staff.

"About a fourth of those surveyed cited fear or anxiety related to their dental provider because they either have poor dental health, or they were treated differently because of their race, ethnicity or language," Telang explained.