We have to do a better job caring for our kids’ teeth

The Appalachian community, including Washington County, needs to do more for its youngsters’ teeth.

In some respects, Washington County is ahead of the game. We have been lucky enough to offer a low-income dental clinic off and on in recent years, which tailors care to families who don’t have insurance or can’t get dental care elsewhere. But once again, grant funding has been stripped which may threaten the future of the clinic.

Beyond that, there are efforts to treat children through schools and other community programs, and there is an effort to educate youngsters about why it’s important they brush twice a day and visit a dentist when they can.

But it isn’t enough. The proof is in the numbers:

– A recent study in Ohio found 27 percent of third-grade students in Appalachian counties had untreated cavities compared to 17 percent in other Ohio counties.

– A 2009-2010 survey of Ohio third graders, the most recent of its kind, found more than 35 percent of Washington County third graders had tooth decay, compared to 18 percent statewide. That number is up from 27 percent in Washington County back in 2005 when it was 25 percent statewide. So, on a statewide level, fewer kids overall had tooth decay as third graders during that time but in Washington County that percentage jumped.

– In Washington County, only 9 dentists accept Medicaid; in Morgan County there are two; in Noble County one; and in Monroe County, there is no dentist who accepts Medicaid.

It comes down to making the care available but also, parents must realize dental care is important even in young children, even in baby teeth. Local health care professionals say getting parents on board is one of the very real obstacles they face.

We urge parents to learn the importance of good preventive dental health and teach their children early on. And we certainly hope the Southeast Ohio Dental Clinic is not in jeopardy in light of lost grant money. We hope health officials will find additional dollars at either the federal, state or local level. The clinic is offering real help to real people and for many, it’s care they will go without if the clinic isn’t there to help them.