Fla. county moves forward with oral health plan

The University of Florida (UF) College of Dentistry and the Alachua County Health Department are moving forward with a plan to improve oral health among kids in Alachua County and other parts of Florida.

Through the Alachua County Oral Health Coalition, the school and health department developed an Oral Health Plan that was issued in January 2012. The plan includes data on the oral health status of third-graders in every county public school.

With funding from a DentaQuest Foundation grant, College of Dentistry faculty, volunteer dentists from the community, and third- and fourth-year dental students under faculty supervision collected data during screenings at each school in September and October 2011. In 10 weeks, about 1,800 third-graders received screenings.

"Surveillance is just the first step in a public-health approach to assessing, planning, and evaluating policies and programs to improve the oral health of our communities," said Scott Tomar, DMD, DrPH, a public health dentist and an oral epidemiologist with the UF College of Dentistry.

Dr. Tomar, who chairs the coalition, said last year's screenings revealed some troubling information.

"More than 27% of the third-grade children had untreated cavities, and in some schools nearly one in five had an urgent need for dental care due to oral pain or a clinical sign of infection," Dr. Tomar said. "For children, oral pain contributes to missed school days and poor performance in school and can create long-term issues with overall health for children and adults."

Dental problems experienced by Alachua County residents resulted in more than $2.5 million in avoidable emergency room charges in 2010, according to the coalition.

This year the coalition will take steps in Alachua County to create a better oral health future, including working to increase access to oral health services, implementing prevention programs, educating the public and policymakers on oral health issues, and continuing oral health surveillance.

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