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DHS news release

Feb. 2, 2007

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Program contact: Gordon Empey, 971-673-0336


Governor gives recognition to the importance of children's dental health

Governor Ted Kulongoski today proclaimed February as "Children's Dental Health Month."

"We are very pleased to see this level of recognition given to the importance of good dental health on a person's overall health and well-being," said Gordon Empey, state dental director in the Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division. "Tooth decay is among the easiest health problems to prevent, yet it is the single most common chronic disease among Oregon's children. Left untreated, it follows into adulthood where it can lead to poor nutrition, disabling pain, lowered productivity, and increased chronic conditions such as heart disease and pneumonia."

The Public Health Division reports that 56 percent of Oregon children ages 6 to 8 have had tooth decay and 24 percent have untreated tooth decay. Fewer than half of children age 8 have received dental sealants, a plastic coating that is applied to permanent molar teeth to seal out decay. Only 20 percent of Oregon's community water systems are adjusted to provide fluoride, which has been shown to be an effective and inexpensive way to prevent tooth decay.

"The importance of dental health is too often overlooked," Kulongoski said. "Children can't live up to their potential in school or other aspects of life if they are in pain. That's why I've proposed expanding the state's dental sealant program as part of my Healthy Kids Plan."

The Governor's budget calls for sealing the teeth of 50 percent of all 8-year-olds by 2010, compared to 30 percent of uninsured children who have dental sealants today.

Kulongoski noted that ensuring dental health for all children will require broad community strategies such as universal dental exams for pregnant women, fluoride treatments, dental sealants and regular dental visits.

The DHS Public Health Division has produced a comprehensive statewide plan and convened an oral health coalition to develop these strategies further. That information and other prevention resources can be found on the DHS Oral Health Web site.