California Children Continue to Face Oral Health Epidemic

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Report Finds the State is “Off Track” in Meeting Dental Needs of Its Children

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Tooth decay continues to rank as the most widespread public health issue for California children.

Despite being one of the most preventable of all diseases, tooth decay continues to rank as the most widespread public health issue for California children, according to the California Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA).

The warning comes on the heels of a report from the Pew Center on the States, which identified California as being “off track” when it comes to addressing the dental needs of children.

“Poor oral care contributes to speech impediments, low self-esteem and a wide range of health problems involving infections,” said Ellen Standley, CDHA President. “It is unfortunate that one in four children have never even been to a dentist and that tooth decay is five times more prevalent than asthma.”

The Pew Center, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving public policy, issued a “C” grade to California, where it says more than 750,000 elementary school children had untreated tooth decay in 2006; conventional wisdom suggests that number is now closer to one million, according to CDHA.

According to the Pew Report, California falls short in key oral healthcare policy benchmarks:

  • Only 27 percent of California drinking water supplies are fluoridated – far less than the national average of 75 percent;
  • Nationwide, the percentage of dentists’ fees reimbursed by Medicaid is 60 percent, while California lagged behind with 34 percent.

CDHA continues to voice related concerns. For instance, many dentists are not comfortable treating infants or very young children, instead they refer them to a children's specialist (pedodontist). CDHA officials say this demonstrates why the role of a dental hygienist is so vital.

“The dental hygienist can provide mothers of infants and young children with simple nutritional counseling to help prevent dental decay,” said Standley. “We are a trusted and reliable source of information about everything from proper brushing to the safe use of bottles and sippy cups.”

Additionally, disparities exist across race, ethnicity, and type of insurance when it comes to the length of time between dental care visits. Most dental practices don’t accept Medicaid-enrolled children of any age, said Standley, and children are seen on an average of 10 times in a medical office before the first dental exam is ever scheduled.

“CDHA continues to make it a priority to raise awareness of pediatric oral health among policy makers, parents and the public health community,” said Standley. “The good news is that with knowledge and public education, we can make headway in reducing tooth decay in our children.”

For more information, please visit the following web sites: http://www.first5oralhealth.org, http://www.centerfororalhealth.org, http://www.cdha.org.

The California Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA) is the authoritative voice of the state’s dental hygiene profession. The organization was established 25 years ago when two regional associations merged to form a unified professional group. CDHA represents thousands of dental hygienists.

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Stevan Allen

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