Dental Disease Epidemic Among Contra Costa Children
Dental disease, including untreated cavities, is the most common chronic and infectious disease among children in Contra Costa County and nationwide.
Despite some improvements in access to care, the epidemic continues with many children still needing oral health treatment, according to a new report released by Contra Costa Health Services' Children's Oral Health Program and the Dental Health Action Group.
The report, Healthy Teeth for Life: The Oral Health of Children in Contra Costa County, aims to raise awareness about the issue, said Padmini Parthasarathy, a CCHS Senior Health Education Specialist who worked on the report (available online at www.cchealth.org/groups/fmch/). Of 13,304 preschool and elementary school children screened during the 2005-06 school year in Contra Costa, 12% of the children had serious dental disease and needed urgent or emergency dental treatment. Another 16% had less serious dental decay, but still needed to see a dentist soon.
"This report is a call to action to fight this serious and silent epidemic affecting our children. Dental disease is five times more common than asthma, and we hope that this report serves as a tool for local action and beyond," Parthasarathy said.
The report outlines the oral health needs of Contra Costa children; describes local programs that link families with dental care and work to prevent dental disease; and proposes recommended steps for local action to address pressing oral health issues in Contra Costa.
Contra Costa and California as a whole still haven't met the children's oral health objectives of Healthy People 2010, a set of national health objectives designed to identify the most significant preventable health issues in the United States and establish national goals to address them by 2010. Contra Costa participated in a statewide survey in 2004-2005 of more than 21,000 California children in kindergarten and third grade. This survey found that 54% of kindergartners and 71% of third-graders had a history of tooth decay. Of 25 states that have conducted similar surveys, only Arkansas ranks below California in children's oral health. The survey also found that children from low-income families and children of color were more likely to have a history of tooth decay, untreated tooth decay, and urgent dental care needs than higher-income and non-Latino white children, respectively. Access to dental care is a major issue, Parthasarathy said.
"Good oral health is essential to overall well-being across the span of a person's life. We believe that the recommendations for local action outlined in this report offer an ambitious yet achievable set of objectives, and we hope that this report will serve as a launching pad for further efforts," she said.
Some of those recommendations include developing oral health education and prevention programs for adolescents and pregnant women, identifying new approaches to improving access to dental care for low-income families, and maximizing oral health resources in schools.
The Children's Oral Health Program is part of CCHS' Family, Maternal and Child Health (FMCH) Programs and collaborates with many community partners and dental health professionals to provide preventive dental services to children in low-income areas and link children with services countywide. The Dental Health Action Group (DHAG) is a community advisory committee to the Children's Oral Health Program comprised of dental health professionals and leaders from county and community agencies.