School-aged children are reporting fewer cavities and greater access to preventive care, but tooth decay remains a major health concern, according to the latest Washington State oral health assessment.
The Washington State Department of Health recently announced results from its 2015-2016 Smile Survey and found that while more children overall are reporting fewer cavities, disparities along socioeconomic lines remain.
“No child should have to experience the pain and other adverse effects of tooth decay,” said Diane Oakes, President and CEO of Arcora Foundation. “It is good news that many more children are receiving the benefits of prevention and treatment, but the Smile Survey also underscores that we have more work to do.”
The Smile Survey revealed fewer untreated decay among preschoolers and third-graders, regardless of household income and ethnicity. However, children of color and from lower income families had higher rates of cavities and were less likely to get care than their white and more affluent counterparts. For example, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaskan Native children have more than twice the rate of rampant decay.
Children’s oral health matters because more and more research finds links between oral health and overall wellness. Oral disease has been shown to impact school attendance, nutrition, employability and quality of life. Oral health and the condition of a person’s teeth also have increasingly become an indicator of poverty.
While largely preventable, cavities remain the most common chronic childhood disease and can lead to lifelong oral health problems. Cavities in baby teeth can result in cavities in permanent teeth. Dental disease and its impacts are costly for families, communities, businesses and government, while prevention and early treatment save money and improve overall health.
Washington was among the top five states in the country for the lowest amount of decay among third-graders, due in large part to preventive care programs that help young children access dental care, including Washington’s Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) program.
The ABCD program links Medicaid-eligible children up to age 6 to dental care in all 39 counties. ABCD provides enhanced payments to dentists who receive training in how to manage young children, promotes collaboration between medical and dental professionals to expand access to oral health services, and outreach to families to let them know care is available for their children.
The Smile Survey is conducted every five years by the Washington State Department of Health to evaluate the oral health of Head Start preschool and elementary school children.