Dental disease can be a serious problem for our children. A child whose mouth is hurting can’t eat or sleep properly, has difficulty paying attention in school and may experience future health problems. In some cases, dental problems such as abscesses have led to death.
The good news is that a 2010 statewide Smile Survey, conducted by the Department of Health, indicates that children’s oral health in Washington is improving. In 2010, fewer preschoolers from low-income families had tooth decay, compared with 2005. The study also reported a significant decline in untreated decay among third-graders.
I want to thank those Spokane dentists and community activists who led the way in 1995 for the Access to Baby and Child Dentistry program that provides dental care to Medicaid-enrolled children under the age of 6, for I believe that this program is a part of the reason for the improved oral health results.
ABCD is now in 34 of Washington’s 39 counties and eventually will be in all of them. It has also received national acclaim for its effectiveness. The Pew Center on the States observed that the ABCD program has achieved impressive results, delivers a strong return on taxpayers’ investment and should be adopted by other states.
Spokane has also been a leader in providing access to preventive care during well-child visits. It is interesting that, on average, a child sees a physician more than eight times for a well-child care check before typically visiting a dentist. The ABCD program, Washington Dental Service, the Washington Dental Service Foundation and Group Health worked together on a pilot program to provide dental disease preventive services in a medical setting to show that we can dramatically and effectively improve a child’s oral and overall health if we are attentive as soon as the first baby teeth appear.
Despite making significant progress in the last five years, too many children in our community and throughout the state still suffer from preventable dental disease. According to the Smile Survey, almost 40 percent of kindergarten children have tooth decay, and almost 15 percent of these children have rampant decay. In addition, the rates of decay among minority and low-income children are significantly higher than the state average, so we still have much to do and many children who still need our help.
If we care about the health of our children, we must also care about their oral health. No child should be in pain because they do not have access to preventive care. Investing in programs that prevent dental disease means less money will be spent fixing diseased teeth. We have an obligation to provide preventive care before overall health is affected. We do not want to hear about another child who has died because of untreated dental decay. Even when times are tough, cost-effective programs that prevent dental disease make sense.