Rolling Up Our Sleeves for Prevention
Kate Breslin’s President’s Corner, taken from her guest blog from the Children’s Dental Health Project blog on May 28, 2014.
I won’t mince words. New York State, where I live and work, is not doing enough to take advantage of proven strategies for preventing tooth decay. The Schuyler Center’s recent issue brief, Prevention First, sums up why that matters: “Healthy teeth are vital for a healthy life.” We’re determined to create a positive conversation in our state about how our local leaders can do more to prevent tooth decay, especially among young children.
Like other states, New York has seen its overall rate of tooth decay drop significantly over the past 40 years. The reasons are many. Most of our residents are using fluoride toothpaste. We’re providing dental sealants to tens of thousands of children, preventing decay in kids’ most cavity-prone teeth. Fluoridated water reaches nearly 72% of New Yorkers, and research shows — even in the era of fluoride toothpaste — that fluoridated water provides crucial protection.
Yet, there is much more we should do. The Schuyler Center is especially concerned about the pain, cost and overall health effects of Early Childhood Caries (ECC) — tooth decay affecting children who are under age 6. It concerns us that roughly six out of 10 children enrolled in New York State’s Medicaid program went a whole year without seeing a dentist.
Kids from low-income families are most at-risk. As Prevention First points out, the cost of treating severe ECC cases can reach up to $10,000 per child. In addition to the high expense, young children with rampant decay need to undergo anesthesia, and sedating children is seen as a last resort because of the risk it involves. Yet we’ve frequently seen this kind of treatment occur: A 2012 study found that more than 25,000 New York children — all younger than 6 — visited an emergency room or ambulatory care center for preventable dental conditions between 2004 and 2008.
For all of these reasons, the Schuyler Center is working with local leaders to develop prevention-focused plans that are tailored to their communities’ needs. The Children’s Dental Health Project is partnering with us to help two “pilot” communities develop these plans. Preventing tooth decay saves money, and it averts the pain and fear that often afflicts these children.
We’re rolling up our sleeves for prevention, and I look forward to sharing future updates on our progress.