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.