Article reveals why prevention must start early

By the CDHP team

"(Dental) problems begin early in life. Terry Dickinson, executive director of the Virginia Dental Association and founder of its Mission of Mercy program, recalled the youngest patient to have all his teeth extracted at RAM was a 19-year-old man. Of nearly 50,000 extractions performed from 2000-2014 at the clinic, Dickinson said a growing number are among people in their 20s. He always worries what this will mean for their job prospects, since 'if somebody doesn't have teeth, they're not going to work in the service industry,' where they have to deal with the public all day." –USA Today


This USA Today story is horrifyingly bad news for young people and for our economy. But sadly, we should not be surprised. It’s been well reported that:

  • People with missing or rotted teeth face hurdles in gaining employment.

  • More than half (52%) of military recruits weren’t immediately deployed due to untreated dental problems.

  • While low-income young people of color experience more untreated decay, two out of three of all 16- to 19-year-olds have experienced cavities.

Though we should not be surprised, we should be encouraged. Why? Prevention is not only possible, it’s cost-effective. But the reporter has it right: problems start early in life. Cavities during childhood are the strongest predictor of dental problems in adulthood.

How can we move forward?

Focus on primary prevention, beginning with oral care for pregnant women.

Research clearly shows connections between mom's oral health and her child's. HRSA’s Perinatal and Infant Oral Health Quality Improvement National Learning Network is making this a priority, with an 11-state learning collaborative led by CDHP.

Use cost-effective strategies to reach kids before disease runs amok.

With support from the CDC and other funders, CDHP analyzed how specific interventions could improve kids’ health and save public dollars for children’s dental care. How much can Medicaid save per $1 spent on preventive measures? See results and policy options here.

Be willing to test approaches, measure outcomes and learn.

Cavities occur at the end of a disease process, but appropriate prevention and disease management approaches aren’t commonly used in dental care. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are trying to change that. In collaboration with CMS and Mathematica Policy Research, CDHP has produced new issue briefs to outline options for state Medicaid programs as well as an informative webinar.

As a nation, we can do better than consigning teenagers to a life with dentures. Upstream prevention can save money and ensure a lifetime of good oral health. Let’s take that route, together.

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children ages 6-12 suffered a toothache in the previous six months.
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