Coos Bay Group Seeks to Eliminate Childhood Dental Disease

Cavity Free Coos Bay is assessing all school children in the district for dental health

January 6, 2012 – A coalition led by Dr. Dane Smith in Coos Bay County is determined to  eliminate dental disease among its children.  

“I’ve heard it said that holes in people’s teeth reflect holes in their heart, and I think there’s truth to that,” said Smith, an oral surgeon in Brookings. “People who have high self-esteem and high expectations for their lives have fewer cavities.” That’s why it takes a whole community to address the issue.

Since last July, 2,000 school children have undergone basic dental examinations, with Smith himself peering into the mouths of 500 children.

Known as Cavity Free Coos Bay, the coalition has brought together dentists, obstetricians, educators, parents and a variety of agencies who are prioritizing dental care for their community, similar to coordinated care organizations that will get underway in July and integrate physical, mental and dental care for people on the Oregon Health Plan.

“The goal is to create cavity-free kids, however that happens,,” Smith said.

Prevention is the most critical element of the coalition’s work, and it begins when a pregnant woman is diagnosed with dental cavities. The associated bacterial infection can be passed onto the fetus, increasing the likelihood that the child will develop cavities, Smith said.

Research indicates that poor maternal oral health is connected with a variety of poor birth outcomes, including low birth weight and an increased likelihood of preeclampsia and preterm birth.

By involving obstetricians, pregnant women can be referred to dental services so their cavities get treated, while organizers educate new parents about how to manage their children’s dental hygiene, Smith said. .

“Like the saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ -- it takes a village to create cavity-free kids,” Smith said.

When a child gets into school, dental pain and visits to the dentist account for 117,000 hours of lost school days per 100,000 children, according to an article published in the September 2005 issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, which also estimated the cost of treating cavities at $3,513 per 1,000 children. Prevention -- in the form of regular visits and cleanings, as well as education -- can cost a lot less, Smith said.

“It’s not an access problem,” said Dr. Mike Shirtcliff, CEO of Advantage Dental, which provides coverage throughout the state for Oregon Health Plan patients. “It’s an infectious disease, a behavior problem. You can’t fix this problem by drilling more teeth or replacing more teeth. If we really want to transform the healthcare system, we can’t just take the existing system and ask them to do more with less money.”

Praising the program’s emphasis on screenings and preventive treatment, Shirtcliff said it’s critical to measure the severity of the problem and then figure out how to deal with it, which is exactly what the coalition is doing.

“Oral health is really important, but the way we go about it is fixing teeth” rather than preventing problems, he added. 


For more on the connections between maternal oral health and birth outcomes, click here

To read the World Health Organization report, click here

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