According to the Centers for Disease Control, 61.4 percent of adults across the state visited dentists in 2006, down from 62.5 percent in 2004. The state ranks 47th, with only three states reporting fewer visits: Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arkansas.
‘‘It goes back to education and a cultural thing,’’ said Richard Stevens, executive director of the West Virginia Dental Association.
‘‘Most people aren’t well-informed about the importance of oral health care. A lot of people have resigned themselves that they’ll just wind up with dentures when they get older.’’
Adults who don’t go to the dentist often have children who don’t go either. That’s a cause for concern among the state’s oral health advocates.
‘‘Parents are the ones who make the appointments,’’ said Gina Sharps, co-director of West Virginia University’s Oral Health Project. ‘‘It’s amazing that we have people with dental coverage who are not using it. People are still not getting the message.’’
The problem is most acute among the state’s poorest residents. Only one in three of people who make less than $15,000 a year saw a dentist. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of West Virginians making more than $50,000 a year went to a dentist at least once last year.
Women are more careful about their oral health than men: Nearly 64 percent of West Virginia women visited a dentist last year compared to 59 percent of men.
West Virginia lawmakers say they’ll consider recommendations to improve the state’s oral health in the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 9.