Great set of teeth Want to judge a person's socioeconomic status? Check his or her teeth. There is still a wide disparity in our access to dentistry. A recent study by Men's Health ranks America's communities for their tooth health.

Their plaque for the worst teeth in America goes to:
  1. St. Louis, Mo.
  2. Philadelphia, Pa.
  3. Newark, N.J.
  4. Baltimore, Md.
  5. New Orleans, La.
  6. Jackson, Miss.
  7. Jersey City, N.J.
  8. Milwaukee, Wis.
  9. Kansas City, Mo.
  10. Dallas, Texas
How did it come to this conclusion? By crunching databases of dentist visits, procedures, flossing, money spent on tooth health products, water fluoridation and dentists per capita.

While it's to be applauded for its thoroughness, pulling out two key statistics shows quite a different picture. Those from the Center for Disease Control show that the 10 metropolitan areas with the lowest percentage of people who visited a dentist in the past year are:
  1. Tulsa, Okla. 57.3%
  2. Sierra Vista-Douglas, Ariz. 58.3%
  3. Scottsbluff, Neb. 58.6%
  4. Yuma, Ariz. 58.9%
  5. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. 59%
  6. Lubbock, Texas 59.1%
  7. El Paso, Texas 59.1%
  8. Wichita Falls, Texas 59.5%
  9. Orangeburg, S.C. 60.2%
  10. Montgomery, Ala. 60.3%
Not all health coverage plans include dental insurance, of course. In 2001, the CDC found that while 86.19% of those surveyed had some form of health insurance, only 61.02% had dental coverage.

Keeping these proportions in mind, we looked at the CDC's metropolitan areas database showing how many residents have some sort of health care coverage (dental insurance was not broken out). The 10 areas with the highest percentage of people without any type of health coverage are:
  1. El Paso, Texas 39.5%
  2. Las Cruces, N.M. 26.8%
  3. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas 25%
  4. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. 23.8%
  5. Yuma, Ariz. 23.3%
  6. Wenatchee, Wash. 22.8%
  7. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif. 22.2%
  8. Orangeburg, S.C. 21.9%
  9. Lubbock, Texas 21.9%
  10. Wichita Falls, Texas 21.5%
You'll note quite a bit of overlap between those communities with uninsured residents and those who haven't visited a dentist.

Of all the factors that determine tooth health, this is probably the most difficult to change. In the era of $700+ crowns, those without insurance would be well advised to brush, brush, brush and floss, floss, floss, so you won't have to spend, spend, spend on your dental health.

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