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Is Ohio Making the Grade in Oral Health Care for Children?

PHOTO: Experts say poor oral health and unmet dental-care needs can put children at an academic disadvantage. Photo of child in dental chair. Credit: M. Kuhlman
PHOTO: Experts say poor oral health and unmet dental-care needs can put children at an academic disadvantage. Photo of child in dental chair. Credit: M. Kuhlman
October 24, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Health professionals say Ohio is not making the grade when it comes to the oral health care of children.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, dental care is the top unmet need of Ohio's children, with more than half experiencing dental decay by third grade.

Sandy Smith, health and nutrition services coordinator for Lancaster-Fairfield County Community Action Head Start, says unaddressed oral-health problems in young children gradually will get worse as they go through school.

She says academic success can be impacted by tooth pain and dental decay.

"It can affect their speech, their nutrition, because they aren't eating the healthy foods that are hard or crunchy,” she explains. “And of course their self-esteem is affected because children often don't smile or talk or participate."

An estimated 19 percent of children lack dental insurance, and Smith says disparities in the oral health of Ohio's children exist depending on where they live, family income and availability of dental insurance.

Smith adds good oral health helps children be prepared to learn and can help them build self-sufficiency.

"If they feel good about themselves and feel good generally, then they are going to be able to focus better on school and have greater academic success," she explains.

Efforts are under way in Ohio to expand access to dental health to residents in Ohio's dentistry-shortage areas through the use of mid-level providers.

Smith says much like a nurse practitioner in a medical office, mid-level dental providers work under the supervision of a dentist and can provide preventive dental services, fillings and routine extractions.

"Steps are being taken and there are actually hygienists who have gone to this next level and gotten training so far, so we just need to continue to move on in that direction," she says.

Smith adds more education also is needed for parents, so they can better understand the links between oral health, physical health and academic achievement.


Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH