“A crown? But she’s not even five,” I responded to the dentist in disbelief as I sheepishly wrapped my arms around my daughter. We brush morning and night with fluoridated toothpaste, have regular, preventive dental appointments, and she had four fluoride varnish applications before the age of 3. I work for Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation (DDCOF) and understanding oral health — particularly children’s oral health — is literally my job!
Oral Health Disparity in Colorado
Driving home I couldn’t help but think about the oral health disparity statistics that I study every day. Nearly 41% of Hispanic/Latino kindergartners have cavities versus 23.4% of their white peers. And even with a higher percentage of lower-income children having dental insurance, their oral health outcomes are startingly worse with a 45.4% cavity rate versus 14.9% in children with higher incomes.
In reflecting on these sobering statistics, I first need to recognize my privilege, which is by design. I hold privilege as white, middle income, dentally insured, and with access to a dental provider (that looks like me and speaks my language) within a mile of my home. Yet statistically, how is it that my daughter — who inherited my same privilege and protective factors — needs a crown at the age of four? As her crown was being placed, I rubbed my daughter’s squirming feet as she tried diligently to breathe through her nose as directed. I was frustrated with myself. With all my privilege, why do I still feel like I don’t have all the tools to succeed? We could all use more support as parents these days, so I reached out for help on oral health tips.
Community Health Services and teleORALhealth services
Based in Aspen, Community Health Services (CHS) is a DDCOF grant partner that provides low-cost preventive health services to the residents, workers, and visitors of Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley. Through their innovative teleORALhealth services, provided in both English and Spanish, they complete an oral health screening over any mobile device, talk with you about concerns such as brushing and flossing, bottles and sippy cups, healthy foods, and how to prevent cavities. It’s incredibly convenient, comfortable, efficient, free, informational, personalized, and it increases access to preventive oral health services. At the end of my daughter’s 30-minute consultation, I walked away feeling more informed and empowered to have a follow up conversation with my children’s dental hygienist about silver diamine fluoride for those problem back teeth and easy tips for healthier snacks on the go.
In recognition of Children’s Oral Health Month, let’s engage in dialogue about how we can advance the expansion of innovative approaches like teleORALhealth and normalize the use of teledentistry. Let’s commit to advancing value-based care that rewards prevention — specifically, reimbursing for educational services like nutrition counseling and oral health hygiene instruction that are critical to optimal oral health. And finally, let’s continue to think outside traditional approaches to dental care and expand our definition of a dental team and dental settings.
Stay tuned as DDCOF launches a new, multi-year prevention initiative this spring. This initiative’s goal is to increase the number of young children, their mothers, and pregnant women — prioritizing factors like race, ethnicity, or family income — who receive preventive oral health services in community-based settings. Sign up for updates and visit deltadentalcofoundation.org for more details.