Interview with Mary Otto, Author of “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America”

The Atlantic interviewed author Mary Otto: “In America, we treat the mouth separately from the rest of the body, a bizarre situation that Mary Otto explores in her new book, Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America… But the body didn’t sign on for this arrangement, and teeth don’t know that they’re supposed to keep their problems confined to the mouth.”

Otto said: “[M]ore than a million people a year go to emergency rooms with dental problems. Not like they’ve had a car accident, but like a toothache or some kind of problem you could treat in a dental office. It costs the system more than a billion dollars a year for these visits. And the patients very seldom get the kind of dental care they need for their underlying dental problems because dentists don’t work in emergency rooms very often. The patient gets maybe a prescription for an antibiotic and a pain medicine and is told to go visit his or her dentist. But a lot of these patients don’t have dentists. So there’s this dramatic reminder here that your oral health is part of your overall health, that drives you to the emergency room but you get to this gap where there’s no care…

“There’s this gap in the way we understand oral diseases and the way we approach tooth decay. We still approach it like it’s a surgical problem that needs to be fixed, rather than a disease that needs to be prevented and treated. And we see tooth decay through a moral lens, almost. We judge people who have oral disease as moral failures, rather than people who are suffering from a disease.”

The interview goes into detail about the history of the divide between medical and oral healthcare, the difficulties facing economically disadvantaged Americans, and the need to integrate oral health into overall healthcare.

Read Mary Otto’s interview in the Atlantic here.