Can you catch a cavity? Prenatal dental care can stop a childhood cavity before it starts – Oral Health Watch

Why is Washington’s coverage of dental care for low-income pregnant women so important?

When a mother struggles with dental disease, her child has a far higher risk of developing dental decay, research suggests.

“Children whose mothers exhibit poor oral health are five times more likely to have oral health problems themselves than children whose mothers exhibit good oral health…” a 2010 National Institute for Health Care Management issue brief reported.

Yet, Washington legislators could eliminate dental care coverage for low-income pregnant women this session to help balance the budget, even though that move could increase dental decay among children. New mothers can transmit cavity-causing bacteria to their babies by sharing utensils and food. When a pregnant woman receives regular and preventive dental care, however, she has the potential to pass less of that bacteria to her baby, which may reduce the risk her child will develop cavities and dental disease.

“The healthier the mother’s mouth, and the longer the initial transmission of caries-causing bacteria is delayed, the more likely children are to establish and maintain good oral health.” according to the brief, “Improving Access to Perinatal Oral Health Care: Strategies & Considerations for Health Plans.” “Children whose mothers receive treatment to suppress oral bacteria are less likely to develop cavities, to develop cavities later in life if affected, and to have fewer cavities overall than children whose mothers do not receive treatment to suppress bacteria.” (Check out the brief for footnotes to supporting research.)

That’s why Washington needs to preserve its prenatal dental care program. It impacts two generations at once, improving the health of mothers and their babies, while saving money over the long term.

Any short-term savings created by eliminating the program could be lost because of increases in dental disease among mothers and their children. Without coverage, many low-income pregnant women likely would delay inexpensive and preventive care, and their dental problems could become more severe and expensive to treat. For more background about this important issue, go here (pdf).

There is still time. Tell legislators to preserve this vital part of Washington’s health safety net. Please use this link to find your legislator.

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Oral Health Watch does not provide dental care and cannot provide direct referrals. To find dental care in your area, please visit our resources page. Please contact Oral Health Watch for more information about our programs and oral health in Washington State