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Healthy Teeth = Healthy Kids

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April 2, 2012

DENVER - An ounce of prevention may be worth the proverbial pound of cure when it comes to dental health and children. A new "report card" found Colorado is in the bottom third of states when it comes to preventive dental care for kids. And that lack of care is playing out in children's health.

Dr. John McFarland, dental director for Salud Family Health Centers, says a lack of dental care - even in children as young as one year - can have negative impacts on things like speech, nutrition, growth, and social development.

"Baby teeth are very, very important. The baby teeth more or less hold the positions for the adult teeth which start erupting around age six."

The CDC recommends children get their first dental checkup by age two, and continue to go to the dentist at least every six months. But the Colorado Health Report Card found that one in four children here had not gotten dental care in the last year and only a third of two- to four-year-olds in uninsured families had gone to the dentist for a checkup.

The Colorado Health Foundation's vice president of policy and evaluation, Shepherd Nevel, says dental care even for very young children is a cost-effective, common-sense public policy.

"If we were to provide oral health for those children at one instead of at four or five, we would be reducing on average their annual dental expenditures by more than 50 percent."

Dr. John McFarland says good dental care is really a family affair.

"We know that dental decay is a transmissible disease coming from the parents. So if we can get better oral health for the mothers and the caregivers, then the children stand a better chance of having better oral health themselves. "

The report card says about eight million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illnesses in Colorado.

The Colorado Health Report Card is at www.coloradohealthreportcard.org.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO