Good teeth make us smarter and more successful. It’s true. Because when kids miss school due to problems with their teeth, grades suffer — not to mention self-esteem. And when adults have missing teeth, employability suffers — not to mention self-esteem. Poor families are especially affected.
The statistics are stark. Twenty-three percent of kids from the ages of 2 to 11 — nearly one in four — have untreated decay. In a 2008 study of the armed forces, 52 percent of new recruits had oral health problems that needed urgent attention before these soldiers could be deployed overseas. These are the problems. Now, some solutions.
The Campaign for Dental Health is working to ensure that decision-makers and advocates at the local, state and national levels are aware of these bleak realities, and several ways to go about fixing them. Each solution is relatively low cost, yet highly effective:
- School-based sealant programs. Sealants cost one-third as much as filling a cavity and prevent 60% of decay in molars.
- Community water fluoridation. Fluoridating water reduces cavity rates in children and adults by as much as 40% and often costs less than $1 per person per year.
- Medicaid improvements. Currently, most dentists do not accept Medicaid patients. Two major reasons are low reimbursement rates and paperwork hassles. Policies should be changed to encourage more dentists to treat low-income kids.