The Economic Value of Teeth

Sherry Glied, Matthew Neidell

NBER Working Paper No. 13879
Issued in March 2008
NBER Program(s):Health Care, Health Economics, Labor Studies

Healthy teeth are a vital and visible component of general well-being, but there is little systematic evidence to demonstrate their economic value. In this paper, we examine one element of that value, the effect of oral health on labor market outcomes, by exploiting variation in access to fluoridated water during childhood. The politics surrounding the adoption of water fluoridation by local water districts suggests exposure to fluoride during childhood is exogenous to other factors affecting earnings. We find that women who resided in communities with fluoridated water during childhood earn approximately 4% more than women who did not, but we find no effect of fluoridation for men. Furthermore, the effect is almost exclusively concentrated amongst women from families of low socioeconomic status. We find little evidence to support occupational sorting, statistical discrimination, and productivity as potential channels of these effects, suggesting consumer and employer discrimination are the likely driving factors whereby oral health affects earnings

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13879

Published: Glied, Sherry and Matthew Neidell. “The Economic Value of Teeth,” Journal of Human Resources, 45(2), 2010.

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