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FOR RELEASE: February 27, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Report Reveals Alarming Prevalence of Tooth Decay Among Oklahoma’s Children

Good oral health is often taken for granted, but it is essential to our health and well-being. Oral diseases can affect our ability to eat, the foods we choose, the way we look, and how we communicate. Yet in spite of the safe and effective means of maintaining oral health that have benefited most Americans the last century, a “silent epidemic” of oral diseases is affecting some of our most vulnerable citizens, our children. Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease - five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.

To better understand the dental health needs of Oklahoma’s children, the Oklahoma State Department of Health joined with the University of Oklahoma Colleges of Public Health and Dentistry in 2003 to conduct an oral health needs assessment among Oklahoma’s third grade children. The resulting survey was the first to provide important statewide data that can be used as a baseline for assessing the dental health status of Oklahoma’s third grade children. A total of 495 students from 36 schools throughout Oklahoma participated in the assessment.

In a report released today by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma Oral Health Needs Assessment 2003, researchers noted that on average, each third grade child in Oklahoma has 2.8 teeth that are decayed or have been decayed.

Nearly 70 percent of third grade children in Oklahoma have dental caries experience (at least one permanent or primary tooth decayed, missing, or filled).

Slightly more than 40 percent have untreated tooth decay.

Oklahoma’s prevalence rate for dental caries experience is higher than the eight other states (Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Oregon) that have conducted similar oral health assessments of third graders.

National performance measures required for federal health grant reporting call for states to assess the percentage of third grade children who have received protective dental sealants. Dental sealants have been shown to be a cost effective but underutilized method for reducing tooth decay.

Oklahoma’s survey found that only 37.2 percent of third grade children have protective dental sealants on at least one permanent molar tooth. This falls short of national health objectives, which recommend at least 50 percent.

As part of their analysis, researchers looked at both statewide as well as regional data within the state. The state was divided into six regions: Northeast (20 counties), Northwest (18 counties), Southeast (24 counties), Southwest (13 counties), and Tulsa and Oklahoma counties respectively. Large differences were observed when comparing regions. The region with the lowest rate of caries experience was the Northwest region with 43.8 percent. This region also had the highest rate of protective sealants at 47.2 percent. The region with the highest rate of caries experience was the Southeast region with 73.8 percent. Tulsa County’s rate for caries experience was 49.2 percent. By contrast, Oklahoma County’s rate was 65.3 percent. Oklahoma County also charted the lowest rate for use of protective sealants with 16 percent. Tulsa County’s rate for protective sealants was 41.5 percent.

Based on this study, public health officials suggest the following recommendations to improve the oral health of Oklahoma’s children:

  • Increase efforts to educate the public about the importance of oral health as part of total health.
  • Increase access to dental care for children eligible for Medicaid.
  • Emphasize the importance of dental sealants for children to both the public and dental professionals to increase their usage.
  • Increase the number of fluoridated public water systems in Oklahoma.
  • Decrease the incidence of tobacco use to reduce oral lesions and oral disease.

For more information concerning oral health, or to review the 2003 Oral Health Survey Report, visit this Web site: www.health.state.ok.us/program/dental/index.html .

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