BEMIDJI – As more than half of Minnesota’s third-graders experience some degree of tooth decay, the Minnesota Department of Health has produced a strategic plan to address oral health care.
The Minnesota Oral Health Plan: Advancing Optimal Health of All Minnesotans outlines the populations most at risk for oral disease, obstacles to routine dental care and strategies for improving oral health.
“I think it’s just a great step forward, to work together statewide,” Jeanne Edevold Larson, executive director of Bemidji’s Northern Dental Access Center, said Tuesday.
Edevold Larson, a member of the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition, said that coalition has been working for two years with the Department of Health on the plan.
“It’s trying to pull together all of the different pieces about oral health care and some of the strategies to address it collectively,” she said.
The aim would be to have agencies and providers working collaboratively to address Minnesotans’ oral health needs.
Specifically, the plan (available online at www.health.state.mn.us/oralhealth) calls for increasing the use of dental sealants, said to be nearly 100 percent effective in preventing decay in children, by expanding the state’s school-based sealant program, which targets high-risk students at schools where more than 50 percent of students are eligible for the Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program.
“Providing children with sealants through school-based sealant programs has been shown to be efficient and cost-effective,” the report states, noting that Colorado estimates a $1.2 million savings from school sealant programs.
Another strategy for success is the expansion of sanctioning mid-level dental professionals, such as dental therapists, and collaborative agreements between dentists and hygienists to expand affordable care and increase available providers.
While the workforce model is in place, the report notes that just 7 percent of all dentists in 2010 had such an agreement in place.
Edevold Larson said specific steps will need to occur before certain strategies are enacted but the plan seeks to improve the oral health of all Minnesotans over time.
“To find ways to reduce the experiences of tooth decay and disease among all populations,” she said.
Children, specifically, are a focal point in the report, which states that 55 perfect of 2010 third-graders experienced tooth decay.
Edevold Larson said the state’s figures jives with local numbers. The Northern Access Dental Center has a local program that provides screenings to students, focusing on the second through fourth grades.
Fifty-two percent of local children experience some degree of tooth decay, Edevold Larson said.
“Sealants are the magic bullet,” she said.
The Northern Access Dental Center saw 12,500 patients last year and serves up to 70 patients a day with four dentists on site, Edevold Larson said.
“We still can’t keep up,” she said, noting that 15 new patients still are registered daily.
She said she is proud of the nonprofit dental center, which provides services to those on Minnesota health care plans, as it provides free transportation, child care, insurance counseling and basic medical screening to its clients.
“We feel like we’re making a dent,” she said. “But clearly there’s plenty of room to go.”
Mission of Mercy, a collaboration of volunteer oral health care providers, will host its Minnesota event June 14-15 at the Sanford Center in Bemidji, expecting to provide about $1 million of free dental care to up to 2,000 patients in two days.
“(Oral health care) is an issue that gets forgotten,” Edevold Larson said. “Some people think it’s just cosmetic. But ask someone who has ever had a toothache or a child with toothache … our population still sees a tremendous amount of tooth pain and decay.”