Has Alaska lost it’s war on soda pop? A report released today by the state Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control, says soda drinking and lack of fluoridation of village water are key factors in the widespread tooth decay among children in rural Alaska.

Read the report here.

It’s based on oral exams of children in a sampling of five rural Alaska villages taken in 2008. (Two of the villages had fluoridated water, three did not. The communities were likely in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in Western Alaska.)

Read the state Health Department’s announcement here.

The study found that children in the rural villages were far more likely to have cavities — in fact, nearly all of them suffered some degree of tooth decay — and that the number of cavities per child was several times greater than the national average.

According to the study:
— 87 percent of 4 and 5-year-olds in the sample villages had cavities. The national average was 35 percent.
— 91 percent of kids 12 to 15-years-old had cavities, compared to 51 percent nationally.

What can be done? Less pop and more fluoridated water, for one thing.

The CDC concluded:

“Of the multiple factors assessed, lack of water fluoridation and soda pop consumption were significantly associated with dental caries severity. Collaborations between tribal, state, and federal agencies to provide effective preventive interventions, such as water fluoridation of villages with suitable water systems and provision of fluoride varnishes, should be encouraged.”

Decay was 1.2 to 2.9 times more common in the non-fluoridated villages.

Note that the oral exams apparently came from villages within a single region of the state, according to the CDC report.

The report doesn’t name the region, but it describes the area as “comprised of 52 villages and has a population of approximately 25,000; 85 percent are Yup’ik Eskimo. The villages are small and remote, are commercially accessible only by air or boat, and have limited medical and dental resources; at the time of the investigation, four full-time dentists were working in the region.”

That, of course, describes the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

The CDC notes that only 1 percent of the Alaska Native population had tooth decay in the 1920s, based on archeological evidence:

Starting in the 1940s, air transportation into Alaskan villages became more frequent, as did the transport of processed foods. This led to gradual dietary changes among the AN population, from a diet of fish and game, to a diet high in carbohydrates. By 1999, an Indian Health Service dental survey found that 64% of American Indian and AN children aged 6–14 years, throughout the United States, had dental caries in their permanent teeth. In 2005, the Alaska DHSS determined that 75% of AN kindergarteners, statewide, had dental caries.