COLUMN: Winning the battle against dental disease

-A A +A

 Dr. Larry Wolk and Kate Paul

Guest Column


Following Children’s Dental Health Month, it’s a good time to reflect on how far we have come and how far we have to go in winning the oral health battle in Commerce City and statewide.

Earlier this year Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed February Children’s Dental Health Month in Colorado, signaling the state’s continued focus on an issue that impacts us all. Members of more than 20 organizations recently gathered at the State Capitol to mark the occasion and add to the growing chorus fighting the most prevalent chronic childhood disease: Cavities.

Our message: This is a battle we can win.

The need in Commerce City was underscored recently, as the Delta Dental of Colorado Fund came to a close. The program provided two years of free dental insurance to low-income populations. In Commerce City alone, nearly 1,500 claims were paid, totaling over $105,000.

We are unified in our belief that oral health is critical to the overall health of Coloradans and the economic health of our state. A few reasons why:

1)  Prevalence: 55 percent of third-graders in Colorado have experienced cavities, yet dental disease is nearly 100 percent preventable.

2)  Cost: Dental care – much of it to treat dental disease – costs Coloradans approximately $1 billion annually, and dental disease carries significant emotional burdens.

3)  Impact: Oral health is connected to overall health, with links to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. A healthy body starts with a health mouth.

  Put simply, dental disease is a winnable public health battle that directly impacts the economic and overall health of our state.

  Colorado’s oral health community has much to celebrate.

  Fewer Colorado kindergarteners and third-graders have untreated cavities than a decade ago, according to the 2011-12 Children’s Oral Health Basic Screening Survey. And more students have dental sealants to protect them from getting cavities in the first place.

  Why is that important? If we can keep a child cavity-free at age three, that child has a much greater chance of living a life free of dental disease and its social and economic costs.

  Despite progress, challenges remain. Too many children continue to suffer because of a preventable condition.

  More than half of third-graders and 40 percent of kindergartners experience cavities, according to the 2012 Report on Oral Health in Colorado. In high-risk schools, nearly three of four third-graders experience cavities.

  Colorado is headed in the right direction, but there is more work to be done.

  Visit www.DentalDay.co to learn more, download resources and read the state’s oral health plan. From there, you can also take the Brush With Me pledge to brush together as a family every day to prevent cavities.  Simple steps can result in big change.

  By working together, we can win the fight against dental disease.


Dr. Larry Wolk is the executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Kate Paul is president and CEO of Delta Dental of Colorado.