Oral Health Care Access in New Hampshire
Just as good oral health is essential to good overall health, poor oral health can increase the risk of a number of serious health problems, including stroke and cardiovascular disease.1 Access to oral health care is not universal, however. Barriers to care may be related to dental insurance accessibility and affordability, out-of-pocket costs, provider availability, distance to providers, and transportation to appointments. Certain populations such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and low-income families, particularly those in rural areas, may experience more barriers to care and therefore be more likely to experience poor oral health and its consequences. Among children, for example, poor oral health can lead to nutritional deficiencies, stunted growth,2 and poor academic performance resulting from school absences,3 and among older adults, to infection, pain, and poor quality of life.4
In recent years, significant improvements have been made to the accessibility of oral health care in New Hampshire. Since 2010, the number of public dental health clinics has increased from fifteen to seventeen with two more in development, and programs providing dental sealants (protective dental coatings) to students in high need schools have also expanded.5 New Hampshire was recently named one of five states to earn an “A” grade for the use of sealants in children’s preventive oral health care by the Pew Charitable Trusts,6 and one of three states to receive the maximum points possible. Additionally, in August 2014, a bill was passed that created a legislative study committee to “analyze and evaluate barriers to and coverage for dental care for underserved New Hampshire residents”7 in order to increase oral health care access for New Hampshire residents most at risk of inadequate care.
Oral health care access issues do remain nevertheless. This brief offers an overview of the current state of oral health care in New Hampshire.
This brief was updated in September 2015 to make a minor correction. The statement that only one doctor in Manchester is involved in the Smiles for Life initiative was based on information about a different program, also called Smiles for Life. Additionally, the link we provided was for this other program. The correct link is www.smilesforlifeoralhealth.org.