MANKATO — Ben Medrano, a dentist at the Open Door Health Care Center in Mankato, says the best way to truly understand recent news that a growing number of Minnesota third-graders have tooth decay is to tell the story of a recent case. One that involves tears.
Medrano said he encounters patients — including children — who haven’t been able to afford dental care or who were never taught proper oral hygiene.The clinic serves low-income patients.
“They have a higher rate of decay than most children,” Medrano said. “It can be demoralizing because we do see so many patients who hear what we say, they try and do it, but they get discouraged because there’s so much to take care of.”
One recent case shows how, when neglected, poor oral hygiene can have a devastating impact on the life of a person’s teeth.
Medrano recalls the case of a mom whose two daughters, ages 9 and 6, required heavy doses of complicated dental care because of the amount of tooth decay.
He called mom into a room, showed her the X-rays, told her how bad it was.
“And she just started crying,” Medrano said. “She just didn’t know. And I had to tell her, ‘This is not your daughter’s fault.’”
That mom’s breakdown that day inspired her and her daughters to take charge and take control of their oral hygiene. And now, after another visit or two, their repair work that drove mom to tears will be complete, and they’ll be on to regular visits at six-month intervals.
Tooth decay among kids is getting worse. The Minnesota Department of Health recently released a report showing the tooth decay rate among third-graders is about 55 percent, 2 percent higher than the national average.
The report, called “Minnesota Oral Health Plan: Advancing Optimal Oral Health for All Minnesotans,” is available at the Department of Health website. It outlines the populations most at risk for oral disease, the obstacles to routine dental care, and strategies for improving oral health and reducing millions of dollars of unnecessary medical costs.