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A look at inequality in America via its teeth




A denture model and dentist's tools are displayed on April 19, 2006 in Great Bookham, England
A denture model and dentist's tools are displayed on April 19, 2006 in Great Bookham, England
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

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The divide between dentistry and the rest of medicine is so ingrained in the U.S. that many people don’t think of it as an oddity, but it’s a divide that has serious economic and health repercussions, as explored by Mary Otto’s new book, “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America.”

Otto explores the story of a 12-year-old boy without dental benefits, whose untreated tooth infection spreads to his brain. Even after an emergency brain surgery at the hospital, he dies.

And this story is just a microcosm of Otto’s larger dive into oral health in America. From the aesthetics of pearly whites to the disparities of care in poor communities and the subsequent chronic pain, “Teeth” is a look at inequality through the lens of dentistry.

Larry Mantle talks to Otto about the reality and history of dental care in America, as well as her analysis of oral health and how it reflects on the States.

Guest:

Mary Otto, oral health journalist and author of “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America” (The New Press, 2017); she tweets @mottomatic