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Another Voice: Good dental health helps prevent disease in kids

By Rebecca Roloff

Poor dental care leads to cavities, gingivitis and periodontal disease, much of which could be prevented with adequate oral care, such as brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups.

The effects of poor dentition include loss of teeth, gum disease, abscesses and halitosis. Periodontal disease has also been linked to heart disease – evidence has shown that both conditions have components of chronic inflammation. Heart disease is a leading cause of death and disability in Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children are particularly vulnerable to this preventable condition. They cannot access dental care on their own and are subject to whatever health prevention measures their parents adhere to. Children living in poverty are particularly vulnerable as they are not likely to be able to afford or have access to any of the components of good oral health – healthy balanced foods, regular dental and physical checkups, or the proper tools for maintaining oral health.

If the person has not engaged in regular dental care, they likely have not established a relationship with a dentist, and this forces them to seek care at an emergency department or urgent care facility, which can only put a “band-aid” on the immediate problem – treating pain or infection – but does not provide any long-term solution to their poor dental health.

Another barrier to good oral health is not having the financial ability to access a dentist. Not all companies offer dental coverage, and if it is offered, it is usually an additional cost above and beyond the person’s health insurance coverage. This may make it cost-prohibitive for the person and his/her family. Medicaid will pay for dental care, but not all dentists will accept Medicaid insurance.

Outcomes from poor dentition can be far reaching. Children have had to go to the operating room and undergo anesthesia due to extensive dental caries; serious infections requiring hospitalization and intravenous medications with resultant disability and loss of school time have occurred.

What are strategies or programs that could help improve the oral health of our children? One suggestion is for schools to provide oral health days; hygienists or student hygienists could go to schools and provide cleanings and talk about proper oral hygiene. Another suggestion would be to pass out new toothbrushes and toothpaste to children twice a year at school as well as providing time for children to brush their teeth after lunch.

Another idea is to mimic local grocery store programs that give backpacks with school supplies to children; why not expand that to oral health packs with toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss? Small but significant changes to the oral health of children could have major impacts on all facets of their lives, including success in school, better self-esteem and improved health as an adult.

Rebecca Roloff is a nurse practitioner at Oishei Children’s Hospital’s emergency department as well as a clinical adjunct professor at D’Youville College.

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