Recent Fatality from Tooth Infection Illustrates How Economic Downturn Endangers Oral Health

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California Dental Hygienists’ Association Calls on Parents and Caregivers to Make Oral Health a Priority

We want to make sure all of us don’t lose sight of the need to stay on top of the family’s oral healthcare. Failure to do so can result in more costly and even life-threatening medical conditions

The recent death of an unemployed Ohio man, who couldn’t afford antibiotics for a tooth infection that ultimately killed him, underscores the critical need for the public to make oral health a priority, according to the California Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA).

The fatal incident offers a sober reminder during October’s National Dental Hygiene Month to the many families not receiving the care they need because they have either lost health insurance or are tightening their belts by cutting out trips to the dentist and dental hygienist.

“People are hurting financially throughout our state and nation,” said CDHA president Lisa Okamoto, “We want to make sure all of us don’t lose sight of the need to stay on top of the family's oral healthcare. Failure to do so can result in more costly and even life-threatening medical conditions.”

Okamoto said that oral health and dental hygiene are now considered essential components of overall patient care provided by nurses, physicians, hygienists and dentists.

“Unfortunately, many people still view oral care as an optional cosmetic service even though the mouth is the mirror of health and disease and the entry point for a lot of bacteria into our body.” she said. “Oral health not only reflects general health conditions but may worsen or complicate existing conditions – pregnancy, respiratory, cardiovascular, coronary, diabetes, immune disorders and other inflammatory disease. The mouth is not separate from the rest of the body.”

Okamoto cited another case from 2007 case in which a 12-year-old boy died from an untreated tooth infection that led to a bacterial infection in his brain.

“These horrific deaths makes the point that oral health can be a matter of life and death,” said Okamoto, who also pointed to a number of reports and statistics underscoring the importance of maintaining oral health:

  •     The Surgeon General and other public health advocates have described the nation’s rampant oral disease as a “silent epidemic”
  •     An estimated 17 million low-income children – one in five children – receive no dental care in America
  •     Tooth decay is five times more common than asthma among children aged 5-17
  •     A 2006 report estimated that it cost $33.3 million to treat patients with a primary diagnosis of periodontal disease in hospital emergency rooms
  •     It is estimated 80 percent or more of nursing home patients do not receive any dental care.

“As dental hygienists, our emphasis is on prevention. We play a pivotal role in improving the public’s total health,” said Okamoto. “One way of doing that is to help raise awareness about the critical importance of dental care.”

The California Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA) is the authoritative voice of the state’s dental hygiene profession. The organization was established over 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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