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Colorado continues fight to reduce cavities despite disappointing 10-year results

Feb 15, 2012

Colorado health officials recently reviewed their efforts to make oral health one of the top 10 winnable public health battles of the past decade. Unfortunately their checkup revealed more work was still needed.

Researchers found that 20 to 25 percent of kids spanning all socio-economic groups have a high level of oral bacterial decay. Fifty-seven percent of Colorado third-graders had cavities in the latest survey in 2007, exactly the same number as in 2004.  And only 68 percent of the overall population saw a dentist in 2010, down slightly from 69.5 percent in 1999.

The results were discouraging because state health officials successfully completed many efforts that they believed would reduce those numbers, including:

  • Get more Colorado dentists to accept Medicaid
  • Persuade pediatricians to include recommendations for dental visits by age one
  • Increase the number of dental residents at Children’s Hospital Colorado  (The number actually doubled)
  • Encourage widespread acceptance and expansion of fluoridated water supplies
  • Promote usage of fluoridated tooth paste

In reviewing the results, officials believe their efforts were undercut by frequent consumption of bottled water and energy drinks. Likewise, childhood snacking cancelled out the desired results of training pediatricians and nurses to apply fluoride-enrichment to kids. 

Despite efforts to populate Colorado’s geographic gaps with more dental professionals, the state still has nine counties without a dentist. This means wide disparities in regard to how kids receive treatment, or if they receive it at all. For instance, state surveys show that 37 percent of third graders in low-income schools had untreated decay, compared with only 17 percent in higher-income schools.

Also, efforts to improve access by allowing hygienists and other midlevel providers to perform basic functions like tooth drilling have been consistently resisted by Coloradoans.

Oral health accounts for just four to five percent of Colorado’s overall medical spending, but the Affordable Care Act requires states to include some oral care for kids in all insurance policies by 2014.  There is no mandate for adult dental care and it is up to the individual states whether or not to include it in the new law’s “essential benefits."  

Sources: The Denver Post, Voices for America’s Children

Copyright 2012, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC

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