Oregon Scores Poorly on National Oral Health Report Card

11/22/00    Portland, Ore.

Oregon Scores Poorly on National Oral Health Report Card.

Oregon has nothing to smile about. It received a less-than-perfect score on the nation's first state-by-state Oral Health Report Card released by Oral Health America. Oregon Health Sciences University's School of Dentistry hopes this poor score will be a wake-up call to Oregonians to make oral health a state priority. The report is based on the recent release of the first-ever surgeon general's report on the oral health of Americans by Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D. Oral Health America is a national non-profit advocacy group that has been dedicated to improving oral health for more than 40 years.

Sharon P. Turner, D.D.S., J.D., dean of OHSU's School of Dentistry, said the report is right on target. "It's time that oral health is focused on as part of overall health."

The report scored states on prevention, access to dental care, numbers of dentists and health status, which is an overall snapshot of oral health based on factors such as tooth loss, oral cancer and oral health in children. Oregon scored on the low end of the scoreboard with a C- in prevention, F in fluoridation, D in state oral health program and C in sealants. Oregon scored equally poorly on use of smokeless tobacco, access to care and prevalence of dentists with a grade of C. On the bright side, Oregon scored higher in the areas of visits to the dentists for adults and older persons with a grade of B.

The report for each state was varied. The United States failed significantly in the area of access to care. Approximately, 108 million people, 85 percent of them elderly, lack dental insurance which seriously limits their ability to get much-needed dental examinations, cleanings and treatment. The report showed all but 10 states and the District of Columbia got a grade of F for failing to provide dental insurance to people over 65. The full report card results can be found at www.oralhealthamerica.org.

Turner believes for Oregon to improve its oral health care system there need to be more dentists and dental hygienists. In addition, she said, "There should be fluoridated water in every community, and an expansion of early intervention programs which include teaching children how to care for their teeth and the effect of proper nutrition on their oral health." Turner believes early screening and education is the key. If more preventive measures are taken there will be a decrease in the need for dental treatment. Turner added that reimbursements for dental care need to be increased in order to reduce the financial risks dentists take when caring for low-income patients.

H. Whitney Payne Jr., D.D.S., M.P.H., dental director for the state of Oregon says he agrees with Turner that there should be "optimal statewide community water fluoridation." He also believes in promoting the use of dental sealants on the permanent teeth of all children to deter tooth decay, which normally begins on the top of molars. Sealants are a relatively inexpensive non-invasive way to protect back teeth from getting decay on the biting surfaces, the only tooth surface least protected by optimal water fluoridation.

"Currently, children on Medicaid bear the heaviest burden of dental decay and have the fewest resources to address it. Access to appropriate and timely dental care is a tremendous problem for these children," said Payne. He said that right now, among other things, there aren't enough dentists to care for these patients. He would like to see school-based health centers and more community-based health centers.

J. Lee Sharp, D.D.S., a Roseburg dentist, agreed that Oregon has significant dental problems. He has seen evidence of the lack of fluoridation in the water in his own practice. Many of his patients need a lot of costly dental work. "The patients can't afford dentistry and their dental care gets put off and the problem becomes worse," he said. He would like to see the state mandate fluoride in the public water system. Unfortunately, he said, there is no quick fix. After fluoride is put into the water it takes five to 10 years to take noticeable effect.