The Impact of Oral Disease on Colorado's Children

Access to oral health care is often overlooked as we focus on collective wisdom on ways to reform the medical health care system. However, as the Surgeon General pointed out, “oral health is integral to general health” and untreated problems can lead to unnecessary pain and suffering as well as financial and social costs.

Last month CHI released The Impact of Oral Disease on Colorado’s Children. Sponsored by Delta Dental Foundation, CHI’s analysis found that the state has not made significant progress on preventing caries (what we lay folks call cavities) among children, but has made modest achievements in treating caries.

CHI estimates that annual expenditures for children’s oral health in Colorado are around $250 million. While this may seem like a lot of money, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the upwards of $30 billion spent on health care in Colorado. These findings beg the question, “Is Colorado really getting the biggest bang for its oral health buck?”

The report summarizes a number of ways that public entities and private organizations can take action to focus on more cost-effective preventive efforts to avoid more costly restorative services down the road. A few of those options include promoting optimal fluoridation levels in public water systems, expanding sealant programs, increasing the application of fluoride varnishes, and expanding and improving oral health education for pregnant women.

Luckily, Colorado is home to a number of foundations that are taking on the challenge of improving children’s oral health care. These foundations and the Colorado Dental Association make significant investments in oral health for children in our state – $5.2 million in 2008 alone.

We’d love to hear your ideas for innovative programming to improve children’s oral health.

Amy Downs is a vice president at CHI.