Opinion: Winning the battle against dental disease

By Dr. Larry Wolk and Kate Paul

Earlier this year Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed February Children’s Dental Health Month in Colorado, signaling the state’s continued focus on an issue that affects us all. Members of more than 20 organizations recently gathered at the State Capitol to mark the occasion and add to the growing chorus fighting the most prevalent chronic childhood disease: cavities.

Kate Paul and Dr. Larry Wolk

Kate Paul and Dr. Larry Wolk

Our message: This is a battle we can win.

The need in Denver was underscored recently as the Delta Dental of Colorado Fund came to a close. The program provided two years of free dental insurance to low-income populations. In Denver and Aurora alone, more than 10,000 claims were paid, totaling over $1 million.

We are unified in our belief that oral health is critical to the overall health of Coloradans and the economic health of our state. A few reasons why:

Prevalence: Fifty-five percent of third-graders in Colorado have experienced cavities, yet dental disease is nearly 100 percent preventable.

Cost: Dental care – much of it to treat dental disease – costs Coloradans approximately $1 billion annually, and dental disease carries significant emotional burdens.

Impact: Oral health is connected to overall health, with links to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. A healthy body starts with a health mouth.

Put simply, dental disease is a winnable public health battle that directly affects the economic and overall health of our state.

Colorado’s oral health community has much to celebrate.

Fewer Colorado kindergarteners and third-graders have untreated cavities than a decade ago, according to the 2011-12 Children’s Oral Health Basic Screening Survey. And more students have dental sealants to protect them from getting cavities in the first place.

Why is that important? If we can keep a child cavity-free at age 3, that child has a much greater chance of living a life free of dental disease and its social and economic costs.

Despite progress, challenges remain. Too many children continue to suffer because of a preventable condition.

More than half of third-graders and 40 percent of kindergartners experience cavities, according to the 2012 Report on Oral Health in Colorado. In high-risk schools, nearly three of four third-graders experience cavities.

Colorado is headed in the right direction, but there is more work to be done.

Visit www.DentalDay.co to learn more, download resources and read the state’s oral health plan. From there, you can also take the Brush With Me pledge to brush together as a family every day to prevent cavities. Simple steps can result in big change.

By working together, we can win the fight against dental disease.

Dr. Larry Wolk is the executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Kate Paul is president and CEO of Delta Dental of Colorado.

Opinions expressed in Health News Colorado represent the views of the individual authors.

Print Friendly

One thought on “Opinion: Winning the battle against dental disease

  1. Agreed completely about dental health.

    Unfortunately, dental care is at least as expensive as any other area of health care, and in terms of insurance, or more bluntly, in terms of paying for that care, dental costs are the unacknowledged 500-pound gorilla in the room. I lived in Colorado for 12 years without any sort of health insurance at all – except for dental insurance. That dental insurance – “about average,” according to my dentist(s) – paid no more than 50% of the cost of virtually any care beyond the twice-a-year cleaning. I brushed, I flossed, and I still spent thousands of dollars – far more than I spent in the same time period for more “conventional” medical care – on dental treatment.

    Like doctor’s offices, dental offices have steadily grown larger as dentistry, like the rest of medicine, has become corporatized. All those employees have to be paid, the rent paid, supplies and equipment paid for, and so on. Much of the cost of dental care has little to do with actual care, and more to do with other matters that affect the dentist’s bottom line. Just as there are areas of more traditional medical care that do not look so good in the bright light of a Steven Brill-type exposé, the same could be said of much of dentistry. “Care” and “Profit” are not, or at least should not be viewed as, synonymous.

Leave a Reply