The rural-urban divide doesn’t just involve politics. According to the Cypress Health Region’s Dental Health Screening Program Report, oral health is impacted by where people live.
Dr. David Torr, a consulting medical health officer for the Cypress Health Region, informed the region’s board rural students have worse dental health than urban students while presenting the report at the board’s monthly meeting on Nov. 10. The study, which occurs every five years, looked at the dental health of Grade 1 and Grade 7 students throughout the region.
According to the report, urban students average 1.21 decayed, missing or filled teeth while rural students average 2.38. Just over 66 per cent of urban students are cavity-free while only 49.7 per cent of rural students can make that claim.
Torr said pointed out two main reasons for the major difference in these statistics.
“Many of our rural communities do not fluoridate their water and it has been proven over and over that when you have a fluoridated water supply you have half as many dental challenges,” said Torr. “If you don’t have fluoridated water, you’ll have twice as much decay and poor dental health.
“The second component we find in the rural communities is many individuals in the rural communities won’t have dental insurance or they have challenges such as travel to centres where they can get dental attention.”
According to the report, children attending a school with fluoridated water average 1.20 teeth that are decayed, missing or filled while students with unfluoridated water average 2.44 decayed, missing or filled teeth. The study also found 67.5 per cent of students attending a school with fluoridated water were cavity-free while that number was at 47.5 per cent for students attending a school without fluoridated water.
Only Swift Current and Gull Lake have fluoridated water supplies in the Cypress Health Region and Torr would like to see more communities add fluoride to their water supply to improve people’s oral health.
“When (town’s) are considering upgrades, that is the time that they should include (fluoride in the water),” he said. “Most of them have kept them as simple as possible and have not included the fluoridization component, but we will be going out there and telling them how best they can incorporate the fluoridization in their systems.
“It’s not difficult at all (to add it to the system). It’s quite a straight-forward mechanism. You don’t need loads of chemical. It’s very small amounts you need to put into there. You just have to have it regularly in there.”
Proper oral health is important as poor dental hygiene can cause more bacteria to be in a person’s mouth, and that can go into a person’s organs causing them to get sick.
Torr recommended communities take ownership of their health to help combat the lack of people with dental coverage.
The study showed Hutterite children have worse teeth than children not living on a Hutterite colony.
It also showed children’s oral health appears to improve between Grade 1 and Grade 7. Torr suggested that may be due to puberty and students wanting to look attractive to other students, but it could mean the region needs to better educate parents on making sure their young children practise proper oral hygiene.
“For the kids before they get to school, we have to be more involved with the parents and create more awareness in the parents so that they do improve the oral health of their children,” he said.
“Some key examples in this day and age everyone is busy and mothers will bottle-feed children. Sometimes they will bottle feed for too long and many times they’ll leave the bottle in the mouth of the child and the child falls asleep. That, right there, is a problem. If that bottle is containing juice, that’s even worse because that contains a whole lot of juice that’s just dripping into the mouth as the child sleeps.
“Things like that we can improve the awareness. How do you start and when do you start cleaning teeth? There are many parents who don’t realize that you can start cleaning a child’s teeth as soon as they start coming out.”
Torr is suggesting the region educate parents on dental health through immunization parents and in societies within a community.
The report listed 17 recommendations for the region. The board will look at each recommendation before deciding whether to implement them.