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Oral Health Talking Points

Talking Points/Rationale

Oral health is a vital component of overall health and well-being

Tooth decay is the most common childhood and adolescent chronic disease in the United States. Children and adolescents with poor oral health may experience difficulties with learning, poor school attendance, and difficulties with socialization and are more likely to experience problems with oral health when they reach adulthood, compared with children and adolescents with better oral health.

Tooth decay can be prevented. It is a chronic disease caused by bacteria. Teeth are at risk for decay throughout life, beginning when the first baby tooth appears. Dental caries (decay) is almost entirely preventable through individual and community-wide efforts.

Providing pregnant women with oral health care and educating them about preventing and treating dental caries is critical, both for women’s own oral health and for the future oral health of their children. Evidence suggests that most infants and young children acquire caries-causing bacteria from their mothers.

Studies have established the association between oral infections—primarily periodontal infections, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The effects range from increased risk for disease to increased severity of disease.

Good oral health is part of an overall health strategy and is a key component to a good, healthy life. Oral health impacts one’s social health, mental health, school performance, and ability to get a job.

For more than 70 years, people have benefited from drinking fluoridated water. Fluoride is a mineral that prevents disease by “bathing” teeth to make them stronger and more resistant to acid attack that results in dental decay. Fluoride in toothpaste, mouthwash, dietary supplements, and varnish have proven highlight effective in preventing or reducing dental caries. Fluoride varnish can prevent about one-third (33%) of cavities in the primary (baby) teeth.

Community water fluoridation is central to prevention efforts. Providing optimally fluoridated water to U.S. communities for one year saves $6.5 billion in dental treatment costs and offers an average return on investment of $20 for every $1 spent. It has been recognized as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many older adults do not have dental insurance because of lost benefits upon retirement and the federal Medicare program does not cover routine dental care.

Access to evidence-based and routine oral disease prevention and education services reduces health care disparities

Prevention is critical to stopping a lifetime of oral disease, especially for pregnant women, children, and adolescents from families with low incomes who are less likely to see a dentist for treatment needs that could have been avoided.

Most children and adolescents who receive treatment, such as fillings and extractions, experience new tooth decay within two years, most often because the underlying disease hasn’t been addressed through preventive oral health care.

Lack of access to preventive oral health care, especially for pregnant women, children, and adolescents from families with low incomes, could increase use of hospital emergency departments (EDs) for toothaches and other non-traumatic oral health problems.

One quarter (26%) of adults aged 65 or older have eight or fewer teeth.

About 1 in 6 (17%) adults aged 65 or older have lost all their teeth.

Good oral health reduces health care costs and is an investment in the future

Toothache, which is preventable, is the most common type of orofacial (mouth, jaw, and face) pain and is one of the most common reasons that individuals seek oral health care in EDs, which is costly.

Pain from toothache contributes to the opiate abuse epidemic in the country, resulting in tragedy for families and increasing health care costs.

Delivering dental sealants to children at high risk for cavities can be cost-saving to Medicaid by averting more expensive treatment costs. School sealant programs could save up to $300 million in averted costs by providing sealants to the 6.5 million children from low-income families who need them.

Illinois should promote multiple sealant placement for children per American Dental Association suggested guidelines. Sealants may wear out naturally over time.

Increase the adoption and expanded use of silver diamine fluoride in children, adults, and older adults as a caries arresting agent.

Productivity for adults who experience a lifetime of oral disease is undermined if they suffer from pain at work or if they miss work because of an oral health problem or an oral-health-related medical problem.

Facts about community water fluoridation:

  • It reduces tooth decay by 25% across the lifespan, benefiting all who drink the water
  • It is cost-effective and saves money for both families and the health care system

Oral disease is a fixable problem if we stay the course

Practically all tooth decay is preventable if we use time-tested, cost-effective, preventive strategies that can put the maternal and child health population on a path to a lifetime of good oral health. A balanced diet, oral hygiene, dental sealants, and dental visits all contribute to good oral health.

Utilizing nontraditional medical/dental interventions can be cost saving and way to reduce health disparities. The health care system could save up to $100 million each year if dental offices performed screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Expand the oral health knowledge by non-oral health care personnel for use in health promotion, primary prevention, and referral for all ages to appropriate care. Provide education and support on pain management and referrals for dental needs.

Community health care workers (CHW’s) are frontline public health workers who have a close understanding of the community they serve. The CHW’s are vital for any language, cultural, and trust barriers that exist with traditional medicine. Although the community health worker may not be a traditional oral health worker, the CHW’s ability to assist their clients with access to care includes any dental needs that their clients may need.

Embrace technology and expand teledentistry. With the use of intraoral cameras and accurate charting, the school-based dental services may be expanded when a dentist is not available. Teledentistry should be reimbursed. It will promote timely and equitable access to oral health care.

To increase access to oral health care in dental health professional shortage areas, increase the number of dentists who receive support through the Illinois Loan Repayment Program.

Other points

The importance of oral health cannot be overstated and is often overlooked. Oral health is essential and integral to many overall health conditions.

  • Recent research has indicated possible associations between chronic oral infections and diabetes, heart and lung disease, stroke, and low birthweight or premature births. In other words, oral health refers to the health of the mouth and, ultimately, supports and reflects the health of the entire body.
  • Dental caries (cavities) are a chronic disease, one of the most common chronic diseases throughout the lifespan and the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide.
  • Dental caries is the most common chronic disease in children. It is about five times as common as asthma.
  • There are also social determinants that affect oral health. In general, people with lower levels of education and income, and people from specific racial/ethnic groups, have higher rates of disease.
  • Good oral health improves a person’s ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, and make facial expressions to show feelings and emotions. These are all basic and needed life functions to a life well lived.