National Children's Dental Health Month Highlights Uninsured/Underserved


Gary ChiodoFebruary 15, 2013

Dear School of Dentistry community,  

As many of you know, February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. At the OHSU School of Dentistry, we have a number of student-led outreach and community events this month and next to highlight the pressing need for children’s oral health care.

The recognition of children’s oral health needs couldn’t have come at a better time, given the sorry state of dental health in Oregon.  A 2007 report from the state Department of Human Services said 35 percent of Oregon first-through-third graders had untreated dental decay, a higher percentage than in neighboring states with more fluoridation. Oregon children also have higher dmf (decayed, missing, and filled teeth) scores than any other state, according to the Oregon Health Authority, again in large part due to the lack of fluoridation.

Community water fluoridation reduces the rate of dental caries (also known as tooth decay or cavities) by at least 25 percent. It has been proven to reduce tooth decay for nearly 70 years with more than 3,000 published studies supporting this important public health approach. In fact, community water fluoridation is the most cost-effective primary prevention health measure in all of health care.

Yet only 23 percent of Oregonians get fluoride added to their water supply; only Hawaii (11 percent) and New Jersey (14 percent) are lower, according to the British Fluoridation Society. Among the nation’s 50 largest cities, Portland is one of two (Honolulu is the other) holdouts.

Another factor in the high rate of children’s tooth decay is the number of uninsured and underinsured, or those who lack access to dental care. Cuts to public school funding for dental hygienists to apply sealants and fluoride varnish to children’s teeth have not helped. Now in the city of Portland, schools don’t even have the funds necessary to bring children to the dental school for free oral care events, such as Give Kids a Smile, which is a travesty.

Our dental students regularly provide oral care and outreach in cities with migrant workers such as Hood River, Woodburn, and Hillsboro. This month, dental students and residents will provide free care for uninsured Buckman Elementary second-graders and children from Cornelius Elementary. On March 1 and 2, we’ll be at the Portland Children’s Museum for Celebration of Smiles, providing oral care instructions and hands-on activities.

While our students and faculty have stepped up community outreach significantly these past years, we are only scratching the surface and there are many children falling through the cracks. With the fluoridation of the city’s Bull Run water supply on the May 21 referendum, we have an opportunity to make a real difference for our children.

Gary Chiodo Signature

Gary Chiodo, D.M.D. `78, F.A.C.D.
OHSU School of Dentistry Interim Dean