Paul Gibbs: I’m working to eliminate disparities in oral health care. Here’s how you can help.

We must take meaningful steps to ensure equitable access to dental treatment.

(George Walker IV | The Associated Press) A dentist walks into a treatment room to see a patient on Thursday, September 7, 2023.

According to the National Institutes of Health, dental care is the most commonly delayed medical care or treatment in the United States. This raises important questions about the fundamental reasons behind this phenomenon.

Of course, an important factor contributing to this trend is dental anxiety, which is a problem for a significant portion of the population. Many people assume that dental procedures are inherently painful or uncomfortable, and this discourages people from seeking care, even when they are experiencing pain or other serious problems. This can lead to unnecessary suffering and complications.

No one likes going to the dentist, but the consequences of procrastination can be much worse.

But that’s not the only reason people delay going to the dentist. Affordability is also a major obstacle. This is a problem I have experienced firsthand. When I was told I needed a kidney transplant, I needed to examine all the different systems in my body to make sure I was a suitable candidate. Because I qualify for Medicaid and Medicare, I can participate in those tests. The only exception to my insurance is dental exams. Although doctors acknowledge that oral health is tied to overall health, my insurance does not. Generous donations from friends, family and strangers helped me pass the exam. When the dentist discovered problems with some teeth, he told me they wouldn’t prevent me from getting implants but could cause serious problems later if not fixed. But I still can’t afford it because it’s not covered by insurance

Delaying dental care is harmful to individual and public health, increasing the risk of serious health problems. And worse yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are significant disparities in dental treatment along racial and ethnic lines from 2 to 65 years of age and older. What is the reason for this disparity and the delay in oral health care in general? Some of it we know, and some of it we don’t know. But in Utah, we’re trying to find out.

It is necessary to fully understand the factors that lead to these disparities and delays in oral health care. That way, we can better tackle these problems at their root and take meaningful steps to ensure equitable access to dental treatment for everyone, regardless of age race, race or ethnicity.

Through the Utah Health Policy Project and supported by a grant from CareQuest, I am helping to create a patient- and consumer-based oral health coalition. This will be a group of ordinary people, not health care professionals or experienced health care advocates.

First, our purpose is to listen to the experiences and stories of regular Utahns who have encountered barriers to accessing dental care and learn what those barriers are. The coalition will then meet with other dental and public health stakeholders to seek solutions to these problems.

If you have any questions or experiences you would like to share or are potentially interested in serving in the coalition, please contact me by emailing Your feedback and experiences could be key to helping us find solutions to the problems Utahns face accessing oral health care.

Paul Gibbs is an independent filmmaker, kidney transplant recipient, and health care activist who has lived in Utah since he was a child. Paul has worked on health care issues with organizations such as the Utah Health Policy Project, Voices for Utah Children, Families USA, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He lives in West Valley City with his wife and two sons.

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