National Children's Dental Health Month: Tackling an EpidemicFebruary 1, 2010
| A recently released study has confirmed the worst -- epidemic levels of tooth decay exist among young, underprivileged children in Los Angeles County. The study also suggests that programs that increase access to preventive dental care through community partnerships are key to tackling the crisis.
These findings were included in a project funded by First 5 LA, along with the Annenberg Foundation, The California Endowment and The California Wellness Foundation. The study, conducted by USC School of Dentistry, found that 72 percent of disadvantaged L.A. County children under age 5 have untreated cavities -- more than double the national average.
"We knew there was a need, but we didn't know the depth of the problem until now," said Conrado Bárzaga, senior program officer at First 5 LA. "This information tells us oral health in L.A. County is worse than we thought."
Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, occurring up to five times more frequently than asthma, and is a leading cause of absence from school. While it is highly preventable with proper care, left untreated, dental decay can cause serious health problems and life-threatening infections.
The study, The Children's Dental Health Project of Los Angeles County, also found disadvantaged children face limited access to dental care and lack dental preventive measures, such as fluoride varnish and education. In addition, it revealed most low-income children had not visited the dentist by their first birthdays as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
"One thing we have known from the beginning -- and this research confirmed -- there's a strong need for tooth decay prevention," added Bárzaga, who heads First 5 LA's children's dental health effort.
Since 2006, First 5 LA has invested more than $30 million in oral health education and prevention. These programs include pediatric dentistry training for general dentists and other health professionals, expanding access to dental services through community partnerships, and creating an infrastructure for water agencies to improve fluoride levels in drinking water.
First 5 LA is also working with the Dental Health Foundation, a health advocacy group, on an oral health project utilizing Women, Infants and Children (WIC) centers and community health centers. The program, called the L.A. County WIC Dental Visit Collaborative, is set to launch next month and will feature seven community health clinics partnering with one or more WIC centers to provide preventive dental services to children and to connect them to a "dental home."
"What's unique about this program is it uses WIC centers as an entry point for dental services for children," said Reena John, First 5 LA's program officer. "We're reaching out to children and where they are rather than expecting them to come into the clinics." She also noted that First 5 LA provided over $2 million in funding for the WIC Dental Visit Collaborative and other related projects.
By providing dental care onsite at WIC centers, adjacent dental clinics and mobile vans, "we're able to provide care at an age when tooth decay can be prevented," John added.
To learn more about the study, contact Reena John at (213) 482-7506.
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