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Dental Health not Necessarily a Smiling Matter for Ohio's Kids

September 19, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It's more than just keeping their pearly whites white . . . Many of Ohio's young children are unable to get the dental care they need to stay healthy. According to a recent report from the Ohio Department of Health, more than half of the state's children have experienced tooth decay by third grade. And while it varies by location, family income and insurance, children in Appalachian counties disproportionately suffer the consequences of untreated cavities and have a greater need for urgent dental care.

The executive director of Knox County Head Start, Peg Tazewell, says it's a familiar story.

"Because we are in a community where there is not a lot of access to dental care and there's actually no pediatric dentists, we still do see at times children with severe dental problems that we need to send to Columbus to receive care."

Tazewell says it's important to target children at a young age so they can learn habits that will last a lifetime. She says some people don't see the connection between oral and physical health.

"Probably what we don't do yet is to help them to see the connection to long-term health. And I think if we could try to make more of a connection to long-term health outcomes, we might move a little bit further along."

Tazewell says more creative ideas are needed to increase access to comprehensive dental care in rural communities. Her program has been able to help some children get transportation to and from a dentist. She says expanding oral health education in schools is also crucial.

"Within Head Start, we're serving pregnant moms, infants and toddlers and then preschoolers up until kindergarten age. And if we could ensure that, when children are going into the elementary schools, there continues to be a focus on dental health, I think that we'll see some long-term success."

Tazewell's program is among those in the state working to better educate parents and families about dental health so prevention and treatment can begin at a young age. To help increase access to care, the report recommends measures such as dentist loan repayment programs and school-based interventions such as sealant programs and mobile dental vans.

Other solutions include expanding the dental work force to allow new mid-level dental providers to practice preventive and routine dental services in communities that need more affordable care.

The report "Oral Health isn't Optional" can be found at www.odh.ohio.gov


Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH