Nearly one third of Mississippi's children have one or more dental health problems including tooth loss and sever tooth decay. MPB's Paul Boger reports oral healthcare providers are trying to reverse a trend that they believe is on the rise.
According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Mississippi has the highest rate of pediatric dental health problems in the nation. Doctor Neva Eklund is the Chair of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
"Oral health is much better than it has been lots of years, but what we've realized is that in the pediatric population we may have gone the opposite direction." said Eklund. "Where we really have gotten an epidemic of early childhood decay"
One of the reason's Mississippi is seeing an increase in oral problems is due to a lack of certified dentists. Of Mississippi's 82 counties, nearly a quarter of them have fewer than two dentists, while seven have none at all. Doctor Eklund says all health care providers need to band together and make sure patients are also looking after their teeth.
"Every child needs a dental home." said Eklund. "If a child is three years old, and they have been to their pediatrician a gillion times, that pediatrician can help us by saying 'Have you gone to the dentist yet? Let's look at the teeth; not just the throat. Let's look at the teeth. Oh, you need to go and see your dentist and get involved with dental care early."
Other states have solved their dentist shortages by allowing dental hygienists to perform basic oral maintenance like teeth cleanings independent of dentist supervising. Elizabeth Carr is an assistant professor of dental hygiene at UMC. She says allowing hygienists to go into communities without dentists could cut down on the number of health problems associated with poor oral healthcare.
"If a dental hygienist can provide dental care without the dentist being present, or if they can provide their care in places such as nursing homes, schools and federal qualified health centers, if we can get into those places then preventive care will be provided." said Carr.
Experts also say allowing infants and young children to fall asleep with a bottle or to drink too many sugary beverages tend to have significantly more dental health problems then other children.