cover image Teeth: Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America

Teeth: Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America

Mary Otto. New Press, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62097-144-4

This full-length debut from Otto, a health journalist who writes for the Washington Post, takes a hard-hitting look at the current state of oral health in a beauty-obsessed America. She highlights access disparities, poorly addressed by our national support networks, that can have lifelong devastating, or even fatal, effects. Otto’s complex history of dentistry depicts dental care as a field on the fringes of modern medicine. She begins in 1840 with the founding of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, elevating dentistry from a trade to a profession, and traces its evolution perpetually in isolation from the rest of America’s health care system. More moving are the book’s portraits of the effects of neglected dental health care in poor communities: chronic pain is a given, the stigma of missing teeth hinders job prospects, untreated infections lead to emergency room visits, and traveling clinics are left to pull teeth too rotted to repair. Otto highlights the case of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver’s death from complications of an untreated abscessed tooth, which eventually led to the 2009 expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. With many adults still uninsured, children’s dental care far from universal, and the future of government-supported health care unclear, Otto’s sobering report should not go unheeded. (Mar.)