11:49 AM

We’ve Got to Start Talking About Oral Health

By Fay Donohue, CEO, DentaQuest

Here’s how we know we’ve got a problem in this country when it comes to discussing oral health: A major network morning show airs a 10-minute segment with tips on how to brush your pet’s teeth.

When was the last time you can remember a TV segment with tips on how children should brush or floss their teeth – or advice on preventive measures such as sealants? It’s probably been awhile because the most common reaction from the media when the suggestion is made is: “We don’t cover dental.”

Can that really be the case in 2011, a decade after the U.S. Surgeon General declared childhood tooth decay a “silent epidemic”? Tooth decay—which is almost 100 percent preventable—is the most prevalent chronic disease in children 5 to 17 and is growing among very young children, particularly poor young children. And poor oral health is associated with severe problems such as diabetes and heart disease, so why isn’t the media talking more about oral health?

There’s a trivialization of oral health that is baffling. Maybe with all the coverage of celebrities and the fascination with teeth whitening, there is a sense that all the talk about oral health is really just cosmetic. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Congress gets it. The Affordable Care Act ensures that dental care for children is fully integrated into the law as part of the essential benefits package for children. As we move forward with health reform, it is important to remember that oral health is a critical component of the Act and should be funded and supported.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare gets it. The agency established new goals to increase access to dental coverage and work with states to develop an oral health action plan for 2020.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) gets it. IOM just released a report assessing the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services and recommending ways of enhancing and improving oral health in America and called it “The New Oral Health Initiative.”
The Pew Center on the States gets it too. Together with the Kellogg and DentaQuest Foundations, they have put out a state-by-state score card on how states are doing in providing access to oral health for their residents. This report serves another important purpose – it gets people talking about oral health—and that’s important.

What will it take to recognize that talking about oral health is a necessary first step --- for the wellbeing of children because we can help them avoid a lifetime of tooth decay and pain, but also for the health and economic wellbeing of us all? Ignoring it shouldn’t be an option.

Related posts:
· The State of Oral Health in America is Not so Good
· Washington’s Unseen Oral Health Debate
· Some Good News at Massachusetts’ Medicaid Dental Program
· The Silent Epidemic: Early Childhood Caries