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My Turn: What we need is better oral health education

For the past couple of years there have been multiple articles concerning access to dental care and the pros and cons of the addition of a mid-level provider to the dental professional team. These arguments deal only with the qualifications and legal scope of practice of those who diagnosis and treat dental diseases, both tooth decay and periodontal disease, as well as the costs.

What has been completely ignored is that dental diseases are 95 percent preventable with proper daily oral hygiene practices, a healthy diet, fluoridation of public water supplies and appropriately timed application of dental sealants and fluoride varnish.

Oral health education is severely lacking, even in the great majority of dental offices. Why? Because there is no dental benefit coverage for oral hygiene instructions as there are for “dental cleanings” and treatment for dental disease. (Dental offices simply are not paid to teach preventative education!) In addition, the dental hygienist positions in the great majority the public schools were eliminated years ago and, although there are several effective school-based dental preventative programs in the state, they are few and far between.

In the mid 2000s the American Dental Association proposed training “community dental health coordinators.”

These would be dental assistants with additional public health and nutritional training who would “get the preventative oral health education out of the expensive environment of the dental office” and into the community. To date only one pilot program has been established and only three graduates have finished their training!

Education is the key. For every dollar spent on prevention education, hundreds if not thousands of dollars can saved in treatment costs. In an ideal world, if everyone were practicing proper daily oral hygiene, eating a healthy diet and avoiding those acid-containing soft drinks, sports and energy drinks we would not be talking about the addition of people to the dental profession; we would need far fewer!

(Dr. Richard A. Berryman lives in Concord.)

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