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Oral Health

Dental and oral health is an essential part of your overall health and well-being. Poor oral hygiene can lead to dental cavities and gum disease, and has also been linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.


The World Health Organization (WHO) defines oral health as a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral sores, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay and tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that affect the oral cavity.

Policy basis for the WHO Oral Health Program include the following:

  • Oral health is integral and essential to general health.
  • Oral health is a determinant factor for quality of life.
  • Proper oral health care reduces premature mortality.
  • The burden of oral diseases on individuals and communities is considerable and given the extent of the problem, they are a major public health problem.

Why It's Important

  • Research has shown associations between chronic oral infections and heart and lung diseases, stroke, diabetes, and low-birth-weight, and premature births.
  • Poor oral health in children has been related to decreased school performance, poor social relationships and less success later in life.

What Is Known

  • An estimated 51 million school hours per year are lost in the U.S. because of dental-related illness.
  • Employed adults in the United States lose more than 164 million hours of work each year as a result of oral health problems or dental visits.
  • There is a shortage of dentists across the country impacting access to care including Medicaid dental providers.
  • Emergency rooms across the country are providing services to those suffering from dental disease without completing treatment.

According to the data from the New Mexico's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) in 2012:

  • Approximately 39% of adults 18 and over had not visited a dentist or a dental clinic for any reason in the last 12 months.
  • 16.2% of adults aged 65 and over who have had all their natural teeth extracted.

Who Is at Risk

Numerous studies have found that age, infrequent dental visits, low education level, low income, co-morbidities, and inclusion in certain racial or ethnic populations are associated with increased prevalence of dental disease.

Oral health barriers in New Mexico include:

  • Lack of dental insurance especially among the poor and the immigrants.
  • Limited adult Medicaid services.
  • Limited Medicaid dental providers.
  • Rural and frontier population.
  • Dental professional shortage.

How To Reduce Risk

Strategies to reduce the burden of disease include:
  • Addressing access to care and calling to attention the benefits of good oral health.
  • Increasing the number of children receiving preventative services (dental sealants/fluoride varnish).
  • Increasing the number of residents consuming fluoridated water.

To address oral health issues in New Mexico, the state provides Medicaid funding for limited adults services, limited services for pregnant women, and SCHIP funding for children preventive and treatment services. The Department of Health is charged by statute to conduct a dental program. The Office of Oral Health conducts a preventive pre-school and elementary school mobile dental prevention program. State staff provided these services to over 125 elementary schools and Head Start programs throughout the state. The Office also funds private contractors and dental providers to service low income and uninsured residents by providing preventive and treatment services.

How It's Tracked

The New Mexico Department of Health tracks oral health through:

  • New Mexico's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
  • The New Mexico Oral Health Surveillance System (NMOHSS)