New Hampshire elementary school parents and children got some good news at the end of last year when the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services announced the release of the “Healthy Smiles-Healthy Growth” survey, which showed a marked improvement in dental health for third-graders from five years ago. School-based programs in cities including Manchester, Nashua and Concord that offer dental screenings are clearly making a difference in improving oral health care for some of our children.
But a new study from the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy (funded by the Endowment for Health) also shows that we need to continue to improve access and reduce barriers on a more comprehensive level throughout the state.
New Hampshire dental coverage is worse than the national average, with an estimated 39 percent of the state’s population lacking coverage, according to the 2000 U.S. Surgeon General’s report. This data was among other important oral health statistics cited in the “Dental Services and Workforce in New Hampshire” study from the Center for Public Policy.
While much progress has been made, the center’s study highlights a continuing dental access problem in the Granite State, especially in our more rural areas.
On average in the United States, there are 5.5 dentists per 10,000 residents. While Hillsborough, Grafton and Coos counties have the highest number of dentists in the state per 10,000 residents — at 6.3 dentists per 10,000 residents, Belknap county has a rate of 4.9, Carroll county’s rate is 4.4 and Sullivan county has the fewest dental providers — at 3.3 dentists per 10,000 people.
The New Hampshire Dental Society (NHDS) is addressing these discrepancies. NHDS just released its five-year “Something to Smile About“ 2010 plan for better oral health.
As detailed in the plan, which can be found at www.SmilePlanNH.org, NHDS is working in partnership with the Oral Health Coalition, other medical and dental professionals, public health advocates and the state’s leadership to facilitate better access to dental health care, thus improving dental (and overall) health for NH residents.
The relationship between oral health and overall health cannot be underestimated. Greater access to dental health care will improve overall health for children and adults in New Hampshire.
Regular dental health screenings can uncover a host of health problems — including stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and infection.
Prevention is a cornerstone of “Something to Smile About.” The plan includes encouraging oral health screenings by primary care physicians for children at an earlier age.
Community health centers and other not-for-profit clinics in the state (for example, Families First in Portsmouth) are already leading the way in educating expectant and new parents about the importance of good oral health and its connection to overall health.
Another key factor in preventing dental disease is promoting FLUORIDE in public water systems throughout the state. For every dollar invested in FLUORIDATION, $38 in dental treatment costs can be saved, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, the cost of Medicaid dental programs in communities with fluoridated water can be up to 50 percent less than in non-fluoridated areas.
Currently less than half (43 percent) of New Hampshire’s residents on public water supplies receive fluoridated water through their public water systems — ranking our state last out of all of New England.
Finally, we need to ensure that New Hampshire has the professional work force to improve access to oral health care. Over the past 10 years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of new dentists in the state, but many practicing dentists are approaching retirement age.
– END –