U.S. states ranked best, worst for dental health

2023 02 01 23 37 6427 Wisconsin Flag Woman 400

Wisconsin has a reason to smile. It was named the U.S. state with the best dental health. Meanwhile, Mississippi was ranked the worst, according to an analysis done by personal finance website WalletHub.

WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia using 26 key metrics, including the share of adults who visited a dentist in the past year and the number of dentists per capita.

Wisconsin is no stranger to being in the top spot. The Badger State was No. 1 in 2021, 2020, and 2019.

This year, Illinois came in second place, with the District of Columbia, Minnesota, and Connecticut rounding out the rest of the top five places. Following Mississippi as the state with the worst dental health were Arkansas, West Virginia, Montana, and Texas.

Ensuring that dental professionals, specifically dental hygienists, are permitted to practice to the fullest scope of their education would help areas experiencing poor dental health, Carissa Regnerus, RDH, MA, lead clinic director of dental hygiene at the University of South Dakota, said in a WalletHub press release dated February 1.

"There is a shortage of dentists globally, and further utilizing the skills of a dental hygienist could help address both access to care as well as affordability," Regnerus said. "If a dental hygienist were allowed to achieve direct reimbursement in more areas, he or she could help drive costs down as well as oral disease rates."

Which factors contributed to WalletHub's findings? The results showed that Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Virginia experienced the following:

  • Some of the lowest percentages of adults visiting the dentist in the past year
  • Some of the highest levels of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption
  • Some of the highest percentages of adult smokers
  • Some of the highest percentages of edentulous older adults

The report highlighted other differences as well, including that Rhode Island has the lowest share of the population who couldn't afford more dental visits due to costs at 37% percent, which is two times lower than the rate in Georgia, which was 74%, according to WalletHub.

Meanwhile, the District of Columbia has the most dentists per capita, with 61 dentists for every 100,000 residents. This is about four times more than the ratio in Tennessee, the state with the fewest dentists, which had 15 dentists per 100,000 residents, according to the report.

The District of Columbia also has the highest share of the population receiving fluoridated water at 100%. The district's share is more than 11 times higher than in Hawaii, which has the smallest population receiving fluoridated water at about 9%.

Additionally, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Illinois have the lowest share of adults with poor or fair oral condition at 22%, which is nearly two times lower than Montana, where it has the highest share at 40%, according to the report.

Dr. Romesh Nalliah, MHCM, the associate dean for patient services and a clinical professor of dentistry at the University of Michigan, said that patient education, promoting good nutrition, and continuing with school sealant programs are good ways to improve dental health.

"Teaching kids and adults how to brush and floss effectively!" Nalliah said in the release. "Remember that dental decay and gum disease is, essentially, completely preventable."

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