Caring for Teeth can Prevent a Long List of Health Problems

We may be about eight weeks into 2016, but here’s a resolution that can both improve your overall health and pad your wallets: Make oral health a priority.

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said, “You’re not healthy without good oral health.” Poor oral care may make you susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, infertility, respiratory infections and dementia. In addition to these health risks, the financial costs of improper care also add up.

According to a 2015 report by the American Dental Association, dental-related visits to the ER cost the US health care system $1.6 billion in 2012 alone. These costs mean higher premiums and out-of-pockets costs passed along to patients and local businesses.

Among the Snohomish County population, 15 to 24 year-olds had the highest rate of hospitalisation due to oral cavity, salivary gland and jaw diseases from 2011 to 2013. Think about how long a problem was festering and painful before the young person visited the hospital.

Dental problems interfere with learning and working, resulting in poor school performance and lost productivity in the workplace.

The key to reversing this trend is preventing problems in the first place. This means practicing good oral health habits during pregnancy, passing those habits along to our children early on or, at least, developing better habits later in life.


Healthy starts for healthy mouths

Only one in four babies see a dentist by their first birthday, as is recommended by both the American Association of Paediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association. While this ratio reflects an increase from previous years, research shows that waiting until age two is too late for the best preventative actions.

In addition to dental visits, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that all health care providers also include oral health education and fluoride varnish as part of routine well child visits for children up to five years old.


Access to low-cost dental resources

Oral health care was the No. 1 health care need identified by Snohomish County’s low-income residents and service providers in the 2011 Human Services Needs Assessment.

For those residents, the Snohomish Health District maintains a low-cost dental resource guide on our website. Washington children who are eligible for Medicaid also have the Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) programme that provides oral health care until their sixth birthday. Since its creation more than 15 years ago, it has doubled the number of children under six who have visited a dentist.

While this programme is making a big difference in the health and well-being of young children on Apple Health in our state, we’re still seeing only half of those kids actually utilising dental care under the plan. Snohomish Health District is working to improve those rates in this area.

Through funding from the Washington Dental Services Foundation, the district supports ABCD programme activities in Snohomish County by bringing together local dentists, physicians, social service agencies, early childhood programs and others to identify and treat Medicaid-enrolled children.

Participating ABCD dentists and doctors receive specialised training in the clinical and behavioural care of young children beginning at age one. Families enrolled in our local Women-Infants-Children nutrition programme can request an introductory preventive visit, along with connections to ABCD dentists for ongoing care.

It’s National Children’s Dental Health Month, so schedule an appointment with a dentist or hygienist today. – Cindy Larson and Mara Marano-Bianco, Snohomish Health District