Many West Virginians have trouble with their teeth. In fact, there’s a big gap between folks who can reliably access an affordable dentist and those who can’t. That’s no surprise when half the state’s counties have fewer than six dentists. A recent national ranking shows West Virginia is second to last in overall oral health care. A state report shows that by third grade, 56 percent of children show signs of tooth decay, and 12 percent of adults have had all their teeth extracted.

People who don’t have good oral health habits and access to regular and quality dental care elevate their risk of other critical health care issues such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. About more than aesthetics or any toothless hillbilly stereotype, access to dental care is a dangerous culture divide that might look like a class gap but is deeper and far more serious.

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the West Virginia Humanities Council.

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WV Health Right Interior

Trey Kay

Dr. Malav Shah provides dental care for a Boone County resident.

Health Right Mobile Dental Clinic Exterior

Trey Kay

West Virginia Health Right Mobile Dental Clinic, parked behind Boone Memorial Hospital in Madison, welcomed patients.

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Trey Kay

Bobbi Muto has been a champion for oral health in West Virginia for decades — first as a dental hygienist then as a public health advocate. She drove Us & Them host Trey Kay to the Health Right Dental Clinic when it stopped in Madison.

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Trey Kay

Dr. Ron Stollings, an internal medicine physician, is a West Virginia state senator from Boone County. For years, he has been a champion of better oral health care.