As a staff member at Youth Empowered Solutions, or YES!, I have become critically aware of oral health as a severe issue in North Carolina. In July, the N.C. Oral Health Collaborative released the Portrait of Oral Health in North Carolina, which provides a solid overview of North Carolina’s current oral health status by focusing on the social, economic and political determinants that prevent many people from obtaining proper oral health care.
North Carolina was the first state to implement an oral health program in 1960 and has since made tremendous progress in delivering care. However, North Carolina ranks 47th nationally in dentist-to-population ratio, so there is clearly still work to be done. Additionally, living in a state known for its beauty, tourism and Southern-family feel, I find it astonishing that we are continually seeing statistics like “three counties in N.C. don’t even have dentists” or “in comparison to privately insured, children with public health insurance are less likely to have had a dental visit in the past 12 months.”
In many ways, good oral health is determined by how much individuals are able to pay, their geographic location and their ethnicity.
Being at YES!, I have become aware of these things. But what about everyone else who doesn’t work specifically around social justice issues? Proper oral health for all shouldn’t be seen as something only in a perfect world. We should fight for it, for our neighbors, our elderly, our youth, for everyone who thinks one’s health is important.
According to the Portrait of Oral Health, there are opportunities to improve access dental care and improve the policies that are contributing to oral health inequalities. I urge you read the Portrait of Oral Health, call your legislators and the N.C. Board of Dentistry to push for a more equitable dental care system.
— Crystal Guevara-Alday
High school senior
Youth staff, YES! (Youth Empowered Solutions)