It has been seven years since 12-year-old Deamonte Driver of Maryland died from a tooth infection because his mother could not afford dental care. Public health officials are alarmed by America’s state of dental care, with surveys showing 28% of people 35 to 44 years old have untreated tooth decay, which can lead to various other health problems down the road if a family dentist visit isn’t planned regularly.

Sadly, Driver’s death was easily preventable. Finding a family dentist is not hard, but when families are strapped for cash, many may not know where to look for an affordable dentist. In the U.S., dental care is not covered by Medicaid, meaning it is up to each individual state whether or not they want to cover this health care cost.

However, states have shrinking health budgets of their own, and without the help of the federal government in this regard, dental hygiene becomes less and less of a priority. As a result of a lack of state and federal funding and families being strapped for cash, many people have opted not for a family dentist, but for the emergency room.

Families who are using the ER inappropriately — for dental emergencies — is one of the glaring issues with the American dental care industry right now. For Maryland, the death of the 12 year old boy was enough to set in motion a series of changes for the better: Now the state’s Medicaid program pays better and is more user friendly for family dentists. Dental hygienists are now better utilized throughout the state, and they are setting a good example for how American oral health care should be practiced.

General family dentistry services should be providing not only routine cleanings for children and adults, but they should be educating their patients about cavity prevention. Tooth decay is four times more common than asthma among those aged 14 to 17 years old, and this is due to a lack of dental hygiene knowledge and the inability to afford dental care.

General dentistry services should make their patients aware of certain health risks involved when proper oral hygiene isn’t practiced. For example, gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss among adults, which could lead to a costly dental implants procedure in the future. Gum disease has been linked to heart attacks and strokes.

To maintain good oral hygiene, it is important to brush and floss daily in order to prevent other health problems. An online search may also lead you to an affordable dentist near you.