Dental disease hurting our kids

TheStar,com – Ontario/ – Dental disease hurting our kids
November 18, 2008. Tanya Talaga

Complications from tooth decay are one of the leading causes of school absences and Ontario is failing to provide access to proper dental care for the province’s underprivileged children, says the Ontario Dental Association.

Ontario’s children don’t need to be walking around with rotting teeth, association president Dr. Larry Levin told the Star.

The dental association has prepared a special report, entitled Tooth Decay in Ontario’s Children: An Ounce of Prevention – A Pound of Cure, on what it calls an urgent problem. The group is calling on the government to improve children’s access to oral care, invest in an education campaign and to continue community water fluoridation.

The association represents the province’s 7,000 practising dentists. It will release the report today.

“This is reversible,” said Levin, a practising dentist. “It is within your control to eliminate active dental disease. As an adult, you need to know you are responsible for the health of our children.”

Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. It is five times more common than asthma in youths ages 5 to 17, the report says, adding that it is up to all parents to make sure they properly care for their children’s teeth.

The association says only 9 per cent of Ontarians know tooth decay is an infectious disease. Parents can pass the bacteria to their children by sticking a soother in their mouth to clean it before giving it to their baby. Utensils and food can also transmit bacteria if parents put the objects in their mouths before passing it to their child.

Early childhood decay affects 6 to 10 per cent of all preschoolers, often rotting front teeth completely to the gum line within a year, says the report that referenced numbers from Toronto Public Health.

The report says it is time for the government to act by focusing on higher-risk children from poor families who do not have access to dental care until it is too late. Right now, the wait-and-see approach is evident, but what is needed is prevention, said Dr. Ian McConnachie, a pediatric dental specialist.

For more than 10 years, the association has been concerned about the limitations of the current publicly funded dental programs for children, the report notes. Ontario’s Children in Need of Treatment program only addresses catastrophic dental needs for kids and coverage kicks in when the damage is done, said McConnachie.

“The government has made the decision to make it a catastrophic care program. … Kids are only eligible if they have large open lesions in their teeth. The problem is there is no preventative program,” he said.

Preventive options could save the children the “agonies and embarrassment of recurring dental disease,” the report said.

“We know that the amount of care required for restoration and surgery for extraction has grown exponentially, so the program is not working,” McConnachie said.

Another concern for the ODA is talk of getting rid of fluoride in municipal drinking water.

“It is a very poor, short-sighted approach,” said Levin. “Fluoride works. That question has never been in doubt.”

Queen’s Park Bureau

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