Statewide assessment reveals oral health of Maryland school children has improved over last decade

BALTIMORE (February 18, 2014) — The number of Maryland children with untreated tooth
decay decreased by approximately 41 percent between 2001 and 2011, according to the results of the Oral Health Survey of Maryland School Children, 2011-2012, conducted by the University of Maryland School of Dentistry on behalf of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Office of Oral Health. 

"Progress requires accountability, and by setting goals, we've expanded access to health care
for 453,000 more Marylanders, many of them children," said Governor O'Malley. "These
numbers, along with the improvements we've seen in this survey, show what we can accomplish when we make better choices. Working together, we'll continue making progress and ensure that every child in Maryland receives the dental care they deserve."

“Our Administration remains committed to expanding access to high quality oral health
services and working to provide Maryland children with potentially life saving dental care,”
said Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. “We’re making great progress, but there are still far too many who are not getting the treatment they need. No child should suffer from a preventable condition like tooth decay because they don’t have access to basic dental care."

The statewide oral health assessment of public school children in kindergarten and third grade
revealed that the number of children in Maryland with untreated decay decreased by
approximately 41 percent between 2001 and 2011. In addition, Maryland exceeded the targets
set by Healthy People 2020 (HP2020)—an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services that provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans—for untreated decay, dental sealants and dental caries, the disease that causes tooth decay.

“Oral health is a critical component of overall health,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein,
Secretary of DHMH. “We have worked hard in Maryland to provide greater access to oral
health services.”

The Oral Health Survey for 2011-2012 was a follow-up to oral health surveillance projects
published in 1995-1996, 2000-2001 and 2005-2006. The study period spanned three years
and consisted of a health survey, as well as an oral health screening. A total of 1,723 students
in 52 schools from the five regions of the state (Central Baltimore, D.C. Metro, Eastern Shore, Southern and Western) were selected in participating school districts. The survey included a questionnaire sent to parents to assess the child’s oral health, including access to dental services, and a screening (oral examination) to determine the current oral health status of the child. A report was then sent to parents with the child’s screening results.

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The goal of the statewide oral health assessment was to yield an accurate snapshot of oral health status and access to dental care that is representative of Maryland’s public school children in kindergarten and third grade. Key findings include:
  • About 33 percent of school children in the state had at least one dental sealant on their permanent first molars, which exceeds the HP2020 goal by 5 percent.
  • About 14 percent of school children in the state had untreated dental caries, compared to 23 percent in 2000-2001.  This improvement exceeds the HP2020 goal by 12 percent.
  • Dental caries, the disease that causes tooth decay, has been reduced in Maryland. This reduction exceeds HP2020   goals by 16 percent.
  • 75 percent of school children in the state reported having a usual source of dental care, which is an ongoing dentist-patient relationship that is inclusive of all aspects of oral health.

“While Maryland has been considered a national leader in addressing children’s dental health needs, there is always room for improvement and this survey shows that improvement is taking place,” said Harry Goodman, Director of the Office of Oral Health at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Dental visits are up and untreated cavities are down. Thanks to increased access to care and preventative measures such as fluoride varnish and dental sealants, our children’s oral health continues to improve.”

Overall, the oral health status of Maryland school children has improved over the last decade. This may be attributable to many factors, including a series of reforms instituted after the death of a 12 year-old Maryland child due to an untreated dental infection. Maryland committed itself, after this tragic death, to preventing another such case. These
oral health reforms resulted in an increase in access to care, an expansion of statewide public health preventive programs and an increase in community awareness. Maryland instituted a seminal community awareness campaign, Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids, which offered culturally literate oral health information to high risk, low income families.

While tooth decay is the most common chronic disease found in children, it is nearly 100 percent preventable and treatable. Maryland will continue to work hard and take the necessary steps to improve the overall state of oral health among its children. For additional information regarding the importance of good oral health in children, please visit www.HealthyTeethHealthyKids.org.

About the Office of Oral Health:
The Office of Oral Health focuses on improving the oral health of Marylanders, preventing oral diseases and injuries and increasing access to oral health care. For more information on Office of Oral Health programs, please visit phpa.dhmh.maryland.gov/oralhealth/SitePages/Home.aspx.

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