Dental Disease a ‘Severe’ Problem Among California Children
Fifty-five percent of California children ages 6-8 have untreated dental disease, and California ranks "near the bottom nationally" in terms of oral health, a situation state officials call "severe," the Los Angeles Times reports. The public health policy research group California Center for Health Improvement also found that 27% of children ages 2-4 had untreated tooth decay, and only 25% of these children had dental insurance. Low fluoridation levels, overuse of bottles and transmission of the bacteria that causes tooth decay and gum disease have been cited as reasons for California children's dental problems. Children from low-income families are "most affected" by dental disease, Dr. Mark Lisagore, a pediatric dentist, said. He added that 80% of dental decay is found in 20% of children, many of whom come from families with no dental insurance. These families must find a dentist who will treat them for free or allow them to use Denti-Cal, the dental insurance program for low-income Californians that pays dentists about 40% of their usual fee, Lisagore said. Dr. Robert Levin, medical director for the Ventura County public health department, said, "It's a huge problem. It's one of those areas that we look away from. There is a real shortage of services for kids because there is no money to pay for it."
To fight the problem, Ventura County pediatric dentists and health officials formed the Infants and Children's Oral Health Coalition last year. The group currently seeks $750,000 in funds for dental treatment and $500,000 for education programs over the next three years. The funding would come from increased tobacco taxes that are designed to aid child development programs. Coalition Chair Martina Melero said that the education money would target children through age 4 and pregnant women. The group also hopes to purchase a van with a portable dental lab and to hire a dentist and hygienist to treat children throughout the county. Finally, the group would like to fund a program that would put sealants on children's teeth to keep out bacteria (Kelly, Los Angeles Times, 1/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.