Thursday, February 25, 2010

Massachusetts’ 2010 Oral Health Heroes

Each February, the DentaQuest Foundation is pleased to join the Massachusetts Legislative Oral Health Caucus, Health Care for All, and other key partners at the Massachusetts State House in a special recognition event. The Oral Health Heroes Ceremony highlights the “Watch Your Mouth” oral health awareness campaign in Massachusetts, and celebrates Oral Health Heroes in the Commonwealth. This year marks our 5th Annual Oral Health Heroes celebration. As Master of Ceremonies, I had the honor of recognizing several individuals in the Massachusetts state legislature and in our communities for outstanding leadership in improving the oral health of Massachusetts’ residents.

This year’s legislative honorees are Senator Steven Panagiotakos and Representative Ellen Story. Senator Panagiotakos, while serving in a leadership role as Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, was instrumental in preserving dental benefits for adults on MassHealth (Medicaid) in the FY2010 budget. Representative Story has consistently stood up for oral health, signing on to many oral health bills and testifying at many hearings at the State House – all to promote oral health.

We also honored Hugh Silk, M.D., and Herlivi Linares, D.D.S. two members of our medical and dental community for their significant leadership in oral health. Dr. Silk is a family physician at Hahnemann Family Health Center in Worcester. He has been a longtime advocate for addressing oral health during well child visits, and has worked to include oral health in the education of residents.

Dr. Herlivi Linares, Associate Dental Director of Lynn Community Health Center’s Dental Services, provides crucial oral health services to her community which includes many low-income adults covered by Medicaid or the Commonwealth Care subsidized program.

Congratulations to all the 2010 Massachusetts Oral Health Heroes. I look forward to our continued work together as a community to bring Massachusetts residents greater access to oral health services and set an example for other states.

Blog post by Ralph Fuccillo, President, DentaQuest Foundation.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Let’s talk about the oral health of America’s children

Today, the Pew Center on the States released The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children, a study of how the 50 states are responding to the needs for prevention services and access to dental care for America’s children. The DentaQuest Foundation, with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, provided support for the development of this report to increase awareness of the important things states can do to ensure good oral health for children.

There are an estimated 17 million (i.e. one in five) children who go without dental care each year, according to the report. Children from low-income households suffer the most— they are twice as likely to have untreated decay as their more affluent peers and are a fifth less likely to receive care.

Fortunately, unlike many health problems, the challenge of ensuring children’s dental health is one that can be overcome. With education, prevention services and access to care—dental disease is nearly 100% preventable. Investing in healthy kids early on pays off throughout their lives. The negative effects of untreated dental disease start early, impacting a child’s learning, speech, nutrition and success in education. Later in life, untreated disease impacts an individual’s ability to get and keep work and maintain good personal health.

In 2003, the U. S. Surgeon General challenged America’s health leaders to educate the general public and policy makers about the need for good oral health and to identify and replicate effective programs that will improve the oral health of Americans. The Pew report highlights proven efforts that are working in these key areas:
  • Preventing dental problems in the first place
  • Ensuring children have access to dental care
  • Tracking progress in each state when it comes to children’s dental health.
One solution that is making a difference today is school-based dental programs. Across the U.S., school-based programs are bringing communities, dental care providers and educators together to provide prevention services--such as screenings, protective sealants and fluoride varnish at school, where children spend most of their day. Many children don’t see the dentist because the parent/caregiver doesn’t recognize oral care as a need, or the parent can’t take time off from work or doesn’t have transportation to get the child to the dentist. School-based programs solve all these problems, and provide an added benefit of pairing children, and their families, with accessible comprehensive care at a local community health center.

The DentaQuest Foundation hopes the data in this 50 state report will become a baseline upon which each state can build and move forward. I am hopeful that over the next few years we will see great progress in how we as a nation respond to the oral health needs of our children.

Guest post by Ralph Fuccillo, President, DentaQuest Foundation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Healthy Moms; Healthy Children

You might have seen this news item recently: a 35-year old woman, who had gingivitis (gum disease) delivered a stillborn baby at 39 weeks of pregnancy. (Full term is 40 weeks.)

Gingivitis (tender, swollen gums that bleed easily) among pregnant women is not uncommon because of their high hormone levels. Usually, the condition reverses after the pregnancy is over.

Dentists check all of their patients for signs of gingivitis. The cause of this infection is bacteria. Usually, with good patient education, regular check ups and cleanings at the dentist, and an emphasis on daily brushing and flossing, the disease can be controlled. However, if your dentist recommends further treatment the best time is before you get pregnant.

Back to the woman who delivered the stillborn baby. An autopsy revealed that a bacterial infection was the cause of death. And the type of bacteria --- was one commonly found in the mouth.

What is going on? A research team at the Case Western Reserve University’s dental school may have the answer to why some women go into early labor or deliver early. Using DNA technology, Dr. Yiping Han and the team in the department of periodontics found previously undetected bacteria from the mouth in the amniotic fluid of women who went into preterm labor. Read more about this at

How does bacteria usually found in the mouth make it to the placenta? One thought is that the bacteria enter the bloodstream when the gums bleed. Bleeding gums, a symptom of gingivitis, create an easy path for bacteria released by brushing or flossing to get into the bloodstream.
Normally, the body’s immune system can fight off low levels of oral bacteria in the blood. However, pregnant women are more vulnerable to infections. And, there aren’t many immune cells in the placenta to stop bacteria from multiplying once they get in.

The lesson from this story is that women need to take care of their oral health because it impacts them and their children.

Pregnancy gingivitis is pretty common. Ideally, women should have their teeth examined and cleaned before they become pregnant, and then they should take extra care to brush and floss during pregnancy. Once their babies start to get first teeth, mothers should be sure to make taking care of teeth a part of the child’s daily routine. That is the first step to having a healthy smile today and to keeping mom and baby’s smiles healthy for life.

Guest Blog Post by Dr. Linda Vidone, Associate Dental Director for DentaQuest. Dr. Vidone is a practicing periodontist.