What Is Dental Public Health? A Look at How It Can Help

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Many oral diseases can be prevented with routine care and regular dental checkups. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to access adequate oral care. Dental public health programs work to rectify that. They provide assistance and programs so people can avoid the pain and discomfort poor oral health causes.

Recognized by the American Dental Association as a dental specialty since 1950, public dental programs focus on oral health issues within populations and communities rather than individuals. The goal is to assure optimal oral health among Americans through disease prevention and dental health promotion. Here are just a few examples of such programs that aim to improve the oral health of all Americans.

Dental Care for Students

Dental problems in kids can also affect a child's health and even his or her performance at school. In a study of 1,500 elementary to high school children from disadvantaged backgrounds in Los Angeles, California, 73 percent were found to have dental caries, says a study from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California. The study found a correlation between these dental issues, lower grades and increased missed school days.

Dental sealants can reduce child tooth decay by more than 70 percent, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is why several states have implemented school-based programs to provide sealants to children from low-income families who are at risk for cavities. Such programs identify a target market within a school district to meet the needs of children who are less likely to receive private dental care.

Dental Care for Seniors

Cost keeps many people away from the dentist, especially older adults. The problem: Avoiding preventive dental care will only lead to more extensive and expensive procedures later on. Furthermore, the severity of gum disease increases with age. As many as 23 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 have severe gum disease, while people of all ages at the lowest socioeconomic level have the most severe gum disease, putting low-income seniors at risk, according to the CDC.

Medicare doesn't cover routine dental procedures and fewer than half of the states offer comprehensive dental benefits through Medicaid, leaving many seniors without necessary dental insurance. Some dental public health solutions include community outreach programs, like the Division of Geriatric Dentistry at Tufts University, which teaches the elderly about denture care and provides oral health and cancer screenings. Another dental public health solution is the Senior Dental Health Program in Wyoming, which covers 75 percent of dental provider fees to lessen the financial burden for eligible low-income seniors.

Dental Care for Expectant Moms

Dental care is especially important during pregnancy, but many women are unaware that oral health problems during this time can put both Mom and baby at risk. In a questionnaire provided to all maternity hospitals in the state of Iowa, 44 percent of women claimed they didn't visit a dentist during their pregnancy, reports the Iowa Department of Public Health. To help expectant moms stay informed and in charge of their overall health, the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families launched an app called Text4Baby, which educates mothers on their baby's development and baby care through their child's first year. It can also be used to set reminders for prenatal doctor and dentist visits, so that women can get the care they and their child need. Agencies on the federal, state and local level have partnered with this app to provide resources and information to expectant moms in their communities.

Preventive dental care, from using a quality toothbrush with soft bristles like Colgate® 360® Enamel Health™ Toothbrush to regular checkups, is vital for maintaining a healthy mouth and overall well-being. Dental public health programs can improve the lives of those who otherwise wouldn't have access to dental care, while increasing awareness of quality oral care for all.