In the Mankato area, Open Door already has begun a prevention program aimed at reducing the rates of tooth decay among all children.
Sarah Kruse, Open Door CEO, said they discovered when they were partnering with Minnesota State University’s dental hygiene program that more and more kids were coming in with serious dental care needs, the kind of needs for which they’d be referred to the dentist.
Because of this, Kruse said they developed a prevention program that went into the schools and, with a parent’s permission, screened kids for dental problems and educated them on proper hygiene.
The program was piloted three years ago. Now, they reach nearly every school in Mankato as well as schools in St. Peter and Nicollet. Last year, they screened 1,000 kids.
“Our hope is that as we do this each year and teach prevention, maybe we’ll see fewer of those kids,” Kruse said.
She said they’re also hoping to expand the dental program. They’re hoping to announce the physical expansion of Open Door as well as add another dentist.
The health department’s report said that, not surprisingly, low-income children bear the greatest burden of oral diseases in the state.
“Children eligible for free or reduced lunch were almost one and a half times more likely to experience tooth decay and almost three times more likely to have the decay go untreated than more affluent peers,” the report’s executive summary said.
“One encouraging finding is the proportion of Minnesota third-graders with untreated tooth decay (18 percent) was lower than the national target (26 percent).”
Another telling figure: There was $148 million in emergency department charges in Minnesota between 2007 and 2010 for preventable, non-traumatic conditions that could have been handled in a dentist’s office.
“The figure points to possible barriers to routine oral health care such as the lack of affordable dental insurance and clear information regarding public program dental benefits, along with the undervaluing of the importance of dental health to overall health,” the report’s executive summary said.
In a statement issued in conjunction with the report, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said: “It is simply unacceptable to have so many of our children and adults negatively affected by these preventable dental conditions. We have to do a better job investing in public health and access to routine dental care. If we do this, we can significantly reduce oral disease and health care costs in Minnesota.”