Oral Health and Primary Care
Oral Health Is Essential to Overall Health
As a primary care provider you are focused on addressing the overall health of the children you care for. Oral health is an important part of every child’s health. In fact, dental disease is the most common, yet preventable, disease of childhood. Dental disease rates are higher in Washington than nationally. One in five third-graders in WA have current or past rampant decay (defined as seven or more teeth with treated or untreated decay). Nationally, 67% of teens ages 16-19 have decay in permanent teeth.
Dental Disease Rates Are Higher Than You Think
- 8% of 1-yr-olds.
- 22% of 2-yr-olds.
- 35% of 3-yr-olds.
Putting these numbers in perspective, asthma affects 12% of kids under age 5.
Dental Disease Significantly Impacts Children
Dental disease can limit children’s ability to eat, play, sleep and learn. Dental disease in children can lead to many problems, including:
- Systemic problems such as cellulitis and abscess.
- Hospitalization for extractions.
- Missed school.
- Significant oral health complications as adults.
Left untreated, dental decay can progress to cause abscesses, facial cellulitis and in rare cases, death. In severe cases, children may need to have teeth extracted in a hospital at a cost of $5,000-$9,000!
Dental disease is an infectious process. Just like an ulcer or abscess on the face, cavities in the mouth need to be identified and treated before the infection spreads.
Primary Care Providers Can Play an Important Role
With well-child checks the average 3-year-old has been seen 8-9 times by a primary care provider.
These well-child visits give you an opportunity to:
- Prevent dental disease.
- Identify dental disease.
- Manage dental disease.
- Make referrals to your dental colleagues as needed.
Oral Health Can Be Easily Integrated Into Primary Care Practice
Considering the potential positive impact good oral health can have on your patients, the effort of adding it to your practice is well worth it. Compared to many services, oral health screening and preventive services can be easily added to well-child checks.
Specific services that can be delivered in primary care medical offices include:
- Oral screening and risk assessment.
- Age-appropriate anticipatory guidance.
- Fluoride varnish application.
- Dental referrals as needed.