In an effort to improve the oral health of African American men, who suffer greater rates of dental decay, periodontal disease, and oral cancer than the general population, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies has released Visible Differences: Improving the Oral Health of African American Males. This report was issued on June 10 in conjunction with National Men’s Health Week (June 13-19).
At a press conference announcing the release of Visible Differences, a number of oral health experts and supporters were on hand to discuss the importance of this publication and to address growing concerns regarding the oral health of African American men.
According to Dr. Richard Carmona, U.S. Surgeon General, oral diseases are among the most prevalent chronic conditions experienced by African American men, affecting their appearance and ability to eat and communicate. These diseases affect economic productivity and compromise the productivity of African American men at home, at school, and on the job. Dr. Carmona and Dr. Caswell Evans, Director of the National Oral Health Initiative and soon to be Associate Dean for Prevention and Public Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, stressed the need to address both financial and racial/ethnic barriers to dental care.
The issue of access to care has received more attention recently, with athletes getting on board to help promote oral health care in minority communities. NBA player Eric Williams of the Cleveland Cavaliers was on hand to discuss his Believe in Me Foundation, which aims to help disadvantaged children get access to dental care. Mr. Williams spoke of his own experiences as a child who was unable to get dental care and how his embarrassment about his teeth drove him to skip school when he was supposed to deliver an oral report. His Believe in Me Foundation is the first charitable venture in dentistry supported by an athlete. The foundation is also planning to sponsor a scholarship for a minority student at the School of Dental Medicine at Tufts University.
Also at the press conference, Dr. Ronald Inge, Associate Executive Director, Division of Dental Practice of the American Dental Association, addressed the issue of diversity in dentistry. Dr. Inge called attention to the small numbers of African American dentists and dental students and the need to attract more minority students to all science-based professions. He also underscored the need for role models in attracting new students to these types of professions. Dr. Amid Ismail, Professor of Health Services Research at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, offered his hands-on experiences through his Detroit Oral Cancer Prevention Network, which aims to reduce the incidence and mortality of oral cancer in African American men.
The release of Visible Differences: Improving the Oral Health of African American Males was marked by praise for the work that has been done to improve the oral health care of African American men, a discussion of improvements that must be made to achieve equality in oral health care, and commitment from public and private figures to invest in diversity in dentistry and equity in oral health care.
Reporting for this article by Dr. Wendy Hupp,
2003-04 ADEA Enid A. Neidle Fellow and Assistant Professor, Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine.