Mary Otto: Teeth

Cover: Teeth

Cover: Teeth


Mary Otto, The New Press, March 14, 2017, $26.95
ISBN-10: 1620971445; ISBN-13: 978-1620971444

Otto reports:

Looking back, I realize that Teeth got its start with a story I covered when I was a metro reporter for The Washington Post. It was a 2007 article about Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old child covered by Medicaid, who died of complications from a dental abscess. His mother, Alyce Driver, had been trying to get dental care for Deamonte's younger brother when Deamonte got sick. But then, as now, Medicaid dentists could be very hard to find.

The nation's more than 70 million Medicaid patients are not alone in their struggles to find dental care. For reasons including poverty, provider shortages, and inadequate dental benefits, an estimated one-third of Americans face barriers getting access to the nation's separate, carefully-guarded, largely private practice dental system.

Mary Otto, photo by Nancy Crampton

Mary Otto, photo by Nancy Crampton

In 2008, when my Post job disappeared in a newsroom downsizing, I found freelance work writing about dental care. My understanding of the subject was immeasurably deepened when I was chosen as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow. Thanks to the fellowship, I spent the 2009-2010 academic year at Harvard studying dentistry and public health.

I also attended a three-day continuing education course, "Achieving Healthcare Leadership and Outcomes through Writing and Publishing," led by Harvard physician and author Julie Silver. It was there that I met Boston literary agent Albert LaFarge, who encouraged me to move forward with my book idea. Still, it took more than three additional years of reporting and writing before I managed to develop what I considered a viable proposal.

When I finally connected with Marc Favreau, editorial director of The New Press, Marc helped me refine and improve my proposal. The New Press ultimately accepted it. Marc and his team saw Teeth as fitting into The New Press mission: to publish books on important social issues that may be overlooked by larger publishers. They used their gifts to help bring this book to life.

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Jun. 14, 2017


I read this excellent book by Mary Otto. Her book has already achieved more than public health dentists were able to do and that is to bring attention to the dental health divide between have’s and have not’s in the US and the powerful self-interests of organized dentistry. Now we have to wait and see if politics continues to trump the needs of American's dental health.

However, your  review makes it sound like she reviewed fluoridation and concluded that the debate over fluoridation is “fake.”  Unless I missed something, I don’t remember her making such a statement.   Although I don’t doubt her belief in fluoridation, I know from experience that it’s very hard to speak to science writers about fluoridation because they have been taught, wrongly, that fluoridation science has been settled and those who oppose it are wacky.  When objective scientists, look at the basic science they are often shocked to discover that no valid science supports the theory that fluoridation reduces tooth decay as this New Zealand scientist discovered and reported in this video posted July 5, 2017
It’s time for your organization to invite research scientists, both for and against  fluoridation, to make a presentation and open it to questions. As you know, science is never settled as your book review, concerning fluoridation, implies.

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