By: Shelagh McNally for Dental1
In his latest speech, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have promised big changes for his adopted state – but he overlooked a silent epidemic that is nothing to smile about. A recent study released by the Dental Health Foundation found that an estimated two-thirds of California’s elementary school students are suffering from dental decay. That translates into 750,000 children needing dental treatment, making it the most prevalent health problem in the state.
|Left untreated, decaying teeth can cause a number of problems in small children:|
Higher rates of ear infection
Higher rates of sinus infection
Tips from the American Dental Association for preventing tooth decay in small children:
Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
Floss daily and use a mouthwash or inter-dental cleaner with fluoride
Cut down on sweets and eat a balanced diet
Limit between-meal snacks
Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams.
Consider dental sealants, protective plastic coatings that can be applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay often starts.
“When people think of the diseases affecting children most frequently, they often think of things like obesity or asthma,” said David Perry, DDS, Chair of the Dental Health Foundation. “But dental disease is now the single most common chronic disease of childhood, and is seriously impairing the quality of life for thousands of children in California each year. That not only hurts our children, it hurts all of us.”
The study, conducted during the 2004-2005 school year, looked at more than 21,000 kindergarten and third graders in 186 schools throughout the state. Many of the children had never been to a dentist. After comparing California's prevalence of tooth decay on a national scale with 25 other states, the study concluded that California ranked second highest. Arkansas was number one. According to the Dental Health Administration of Alameda County, as many as 140,000 school children are suffering from painful infection and abscesses that result in difficulty speaking and swallowing, trouble concentrating and time off from school. Close to 38,000 are in need of urgent dental care.
The problem stems from a lack of dental insurance and money. Low income children had one-third more untreated dental decay as compared to those children with a higher income. Unfortunately, Latino children made up a large portion of those suffering. Seventy-two percent of Latino children surveyed had some decay, 26 percent had rampant decay and 30 percent needed immediate treatment -- nearly twice the rate of Caucasian children surveyed.
“This study shows us that dental disease in California is a massive hurdle we need to overcome and it needs to be treated as such,” said Francisco Ramos-Gomez, DDS, MS, MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatric Dentistry at UCSF School of Dentistry. “Monitoring children's oral health, taking steps to prevent disease, treating problems early, and raising public awareness are key to a healthier tomorrow for our children.”
To combat this silent epidemic, the First 5 California, an organization funded by the California Dental Association Foundation and the Dental Health Foundation, has created the “First Smiles” program. The 10-million dollar project is aimed at improving childrens’ oral health through public awareness and parental education. It also hopes to increase access to dental coverage and preventive care including fluoridation and dental sealants as well as training medical and dental professionals to deal with the problem. Even though other states may not have such high rates of tooth decay, we can all learn from the lessons of California.