More than half of Minnesota's third graders have cavities, according to a new report from the state health department.
55 percent of third graders surveyed in 2010 had evidence of tooth decay – a slightly higher number than the national rate of 53 percent of children 6 to 8 years old.
Low-income children experience more 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.
A majority of Minnesota third graders (64 percent) show evidence of dental sealants on at least one permanent molar, which is two times higher than the national rate (32 percent). However, Minnesota's high sealant rate drops off to the low rate of 42 percent among the state's poorest children in families earning 75 percent or less then federal poverty levels.
While Minnesota third graders have more cavities, the number with untreated tooth decay (18 percent) was lower than the national target (26 percent) set by Healthy People 2020.
UNNECESSARY EMERGENCY ROOM VISITS
Poor dental care has long-term health consequences and places a cost burden on the state. Between 2007 and 2010, Minnesota reported $148 million in emergency charges for preventable, non-traumatic conditions that could have been treated by a dental provider in a more appropriate setting.
At Regions Hospital in St. Paul, more than 1,800 people walked into the emergency room last year for treatment of every kind of toothache or infection you can imagine -- but all the doctors there can do is give antibiotics and something for the pain that will last only between 2-6 hours.
In 2011, Hennepin County Medical Center saw more than 5,700 people in the E.R. for dental pain.
By law, hospitals can't turn anyone away from their emergency rooms, no matter the ailment or whether they have the means to pay or not.
In the Twin Cities, one study tracked 10,000 dental-related visits in just one year. Since an emergency room visit can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, the bill totaled nearly $5 million -- and the tab is often paid with public money.
Yet, emergency room treatments do nothing to treat the underlying problem, which could be remedied by something as simple as pulling a tooth. A dentist can do that for $150.
This high costs shows some families still face barriers to routine dental care, such as the lack of affordable dental insurance.
"It is simply unacceptable to have so many of our children and adults negatively affected by these preventable dental conditions," said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota commissioner of health. "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."
The Minnesota Department of Health has created the Minnesota Oral Health Plan to identify at-risk populations and strategies for improving dental health and reducing millions of dollars of unnecessary medical costs.
HELP FOR LOWER-INCOME FAMILIES
Finances often keep people -- young and old alike -- out of the dentist's chair, but Shamblott Family Dentistry in Hopkins is holding its 8th annual Dentistry from the Heart event on Friday, Feb. 22 between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Patients in need of care can simply arrive between those hours and get a free extraction or filling at the address below:
Shamblott Family Dentistry
33 10th Avenue South
Hopkins, MN 55343