Written by

Dr. Chris Urbina

 

While many Coloradans focus on their 2012 New Year's resolutions, community and public health leaders across the state are pledging to improve the oral health of all Coloradans.

Diseases of the mouth get little attention compared to the many other medical issues, but these diseases directly impact the economic health of our state. In 2010, Americans spent an estimated $108 billion on dental services. Oral diseases, pain and infections account for 164 million lost work hours nationally and about 7.8 million lost school hours in Colorado.

Because oral diseases are almost entirely preventable, this is a public health and finance battle we can and must win.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is focusing his leadership on improving oral health, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently named oral health one of the state's 10 Winnable Battles. Many foundations, nonprofits and individual dentists have committed resources to helping Coloradans maintain good oral health; especially those who can least afford dental care.

Delta Dental of Colorado joined the battle by launching a $3 million fund to provide two years of free dental insurance to needy people across the state. The Delta Dental of Colorado Fund is approaching its three-month anniversary, and already more than 3,500 Coloradans have signed up to receive assistance.

In Colorado, 42 percent of adults lack dental insurance. Research shows that a vast majority of people who have dental insurance report seeing a dentist twice a year or more. These regular checkups are a crucial component to maintaining good oral health and one that is all too often abandoned when times are tight.

Dental disease hits low-income Coloradans harder than any other group. And like other public health issues, low socio-economic status residents too often find themselves receiving emergency dental care rather than the preventive care that helps to head off more expensive problems and medical complications.

Children are of particular concern. Dental disease is the most common chronic childhood disease, surpassing even asthma. In 2010, only 3 percent of Colorado children had visited the dentist by their first birthday as recommended. By age 5, one-third still had never seen a dentist.

By following some simple steps, parents can help protect their children from dental disease:

» Do not share spoons, forks or cups - germs that cause tooth decay can be passed from parent to child.

» Never put a baby to bed with a bottle filled with anything but water.

» Only put formula, milk or water in a baby bottle - no juice or sweet drinks.

» Don't dip pacifiers in honey or sugar or clean them with your mouth.

» Cut down on sugary drinks, including soda, juice and sports drinks.

» Everyone in the house should brush twice daily and floss.

Good oral health and access to quality dental care is a problem that is completely within our grasp to solve. Through innovative public/ private partnerships, dedicated health professionals and the support of educated community members, we will achieve real change and improved oral health for all Coloradans.

Dr. Chris Urbina is the executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Kate Paul is president and chief executive officer of Delta Dental of Colorado. For more information about the Delta Dental of Colorado Fund, visit www.deltadentalco.com or call (720) 489-4713.