Scores of children in Peel Region are suffering from dental disease because they don’t have access to proper care, a Peel Region health report shows.

A survey of school-aged youngsters in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon conducted in 2001-02 identified “significant dental disease among Peel children,” the 2003 Children’s Dental Health Report stated.

The oral health study, which was released earlier this week, revealed that only 55 per cent of children surveyed who have had cavities had all of their decaying teeth filled.

Furthermore, 12 per cent of the youngsters had “urgent dental conditions”, the majority of whom were between the ages of 5 and 7, according to the report.

“This indicates a significant delay in access to care for many children in Peel,” said Dr. David McKeown, Peel’s medical officer of health, noting that many working parents cannot afford dental care for their children. “…too many of them have dental health problems.”

McKeown added good dental health is a must for children.

“Dental pain, bleeding and infection can interfere with learning in school and lead to tooth loss,” said McKeown.

In conducting the study, Peel health officials also discovered that dental diseases, particularly decay and gingivitis (gum infections), affect more than one-third of children in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.

Dr. Franklin Pulver, a retired University of Toronto instructor, who has practiced dentistry for more than 40 years in Mississauga and Toronto, said fluoride added to most southern Ontario municipalities’ drinking water in the 1960s has helped reduce overall incidences of tooth decay.

Still, good dental health must be practiced at home to ensure children grow up with healthy teeth and gums, he added.

“If parents pay attention to proper dental care, and don’t shove a lot of sugar into (their children), that goes a long way,” said Pulver.

Pulver added young children should not ingest anything other than water after having their teeth brushed before going to sleep at night.

“If a child is given milk, for example, before bed, then they should have their teeth brushed afterwards so they go to bed with clean teeth,” said Pulver. “And if they wake up thirsty, give them water.”

In an effort to address dental health problems among youngsters, Peel Health has set up its first dental preventive services clinic to provide children, who meet specific criteria, with access to a range of services, officials said.

To further address concerns, Region staff is recommending additional action on several fronts:

* that Peel Health officials seek funding in the 2004 budget for a second preventive clinic;

* that Regional council push the provincial health ministry to further fund non-urgent dental treatment for children whose parents are working but cannot afford to pay for treatment. Officials say 40 per cent of children and their families in Peel have no dental benefits or insurance; and

* that a plan to fluoridate Caledon well water to improve dental health of children there be considered.

Pulver added “working poor” parents can access dental care for their children through the Children in Need of Treatment program operated by Ontario’s health ministry.