A new study from WalletHub has found Tennessee to be the third worst state in the country for dental habits and care, and ranked the state 41st in overall dental health.

A total of 26 factors were measured when ranking all 50 states, some of which include a state’s percentage of adult smokers, dental office visits and quantity, and consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

Among the 26 factors considered in the study, Tennessee routinely was ranked among the worst five in the country.

Cigarette smoking leads to nearly half a million deaths annually, and is the “leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Cigarette smoking is also a major factor in oral hygiene, and can cause tooth discoloration, bad breath, as well as plaque and tartar build up.

For Tennesseans, cigarette use among adults in among the highest in the state. The CDC reports that roughly 23 percent of adults, or more than one in five Tennesseans, regularly smoke cigarettes. The national percentage is roughly 15 percent.

When ranking cities by the percentage of adult smokers, Tennessee was found to have the fifth highest amount, with West Virginia having the single highest percentage of adult smokers in the state. Comparatively, Utah had the lowest percentage of adult smokers, at less than 9 percent.

Tennessee also had the fifth highest percentage of its elderly population without teeth, at almost five times the amount as the state with the least percentage, which was Hawaii.

When measuring the amount of dentists per state resident, Tennessee ranked 47th, only behind Alabama, Idaho and Louisiana, respectively.

Despite Tennessee’s poor performance in oral health, Williamson County shows many statistics that actually outperform the national average regarding oral health, such as the percentage of adult smokers. A 2016 study by Vanderbilt University found that only 11 percent of adults regularly smoke cigarettes in Williamson County – substantially lower than the national average of 15 percent, and significantly lower than the state’s percentage of 23.

The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) has long been combating this problem, and to its credit, has made significant advancements in overall oral health in the past few years. In 2017 alone, the TDH spent nearly $16 million towards combating poor oral health, launching programs that gave tens of thousands of children and adults affordable or free dental visits, screenings and exams.

Residents who may not have the means to afford dental and oral care are encouraged to visit the Williamson County Health Department, which “ offers comprehensive dental services to children and emergency care to adults on a sliding fee scale according to income,” according to the CDC. The Williamson County Health Department is open Monday through Friday, and is located at 1324 W Main Street, Franklin, TN 37064.

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