Tell the Tooth: Oral Disease is a Problem We Can Address

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Tell the Tooth: Oral Disease is a Problem We Can Address

Originally published July 2016 in THE MESSAGE, a monthly newsmagazine of the Spokane County Medical Society.

As a practicing Pediatrician in Spokane for over thirty years, I have seen my share of painful dental problems among my young patients. I trained in Chicago at Cook County Hospital. My patients were the poorest of the poor. But I didn’t see teeth rotted to the gumline until I moved to Spokane. Honest, the first kid I saw with horrible dental caries I thought had ectodermal dysplasia. I’d seen THAT in Chicago. Twice.

Instinctively, most of us recognize that good oral health is important. Painful teeth affect a child’s ability to focus and learn and prevent seniors from eating nutritious foods[1]. What many may not know is that early childhood caries (cavities or tooth decay) is the most common chronic disease affecting young children. It is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.[2]  Poor dental health affects cardiovascular health too.

Unfortunately, one of every four Spokane children has experienced dental decay by kindergarten[3]. Unsurprisingly, one of every three Spokane County adults has lost at least one tooth due to decay[4]. I remember volunteering in my sons’ elementary classrooms and helping on field trips. One group of six kids I took to the Fair were amazed that I had my own home grown teeth. None of their mother’s had any teeth left (other than their dentures). And, come to think of it, those mothers were all ten years and more younger than me. This is why there is growing momentum for physicians to address oral health. [5]

Our local dentists pioneered the ABCD program (a precursor to our Project Access) so all children would have access to dental care. Then they expanded the ages served with the ABCDE program, now called Mighty Mouth in Primary Care, to encourage physicians to do fluoride varnishes. Together we showed everyone how well this worked for our kids. Now statewide, 45 percent of pediatricians and family physicians have been trained to deliver oral health preventive services during well child visits

Signing up for a free ninety minute training is as simple as contacting Arcora Foundation – and they do refresher courses. Addressing oral health in your practice is reimbursable.

We have a role in promoting strategies that will prevent cavities. The re-mineralizing effects of community water fluoridation and fluoride varnish along with proper brushing and flossing on tooth enamel are effective for both children and adults. Working together, one conversation at time, we have the opportunity to inoculate our patients from the questionable information found on the web and help them make the right decisions for their overall health and the community. Oral Health is one of the great interventions we make that can have lasting effect.


The SCMS is partnering with Smile Spokane to improve oral health for all Spokane residents. For more information on trainings or to get involved, please contact Jerrie Allard,

[1] Dental Problems Affect School Performance. PEW Dental Campaign. August 15, 2012.  Accessed at  June 7, 2016.

[2] US Department of Health and Human Services. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General.  Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health: 2000. Available at: Accessed June 07,2016

[3]Spokane Regional health District. Smile Survey 2010, Oral Health Disparities Evident.  April 18, 2011. Accessed at June 7, 2016

[4] Spokane Regional Health District. Ten Things You Need to Know About Oral Health in Spokane County: 2010. Assessed at June 7th, 2016

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration. Integration of Oral Health and Primary Care Practice. 2014. Accessed at June 7, 2016

By | 2017-06-26T13:41:49+00:00 August 29th, 2016|Blog, Homepage 3|Comments Off on Tell the Tooth: Oral Disease is a Problem We Can Address

About the Author:

Deb Harper, MD, FAAP, Smile Spokane Strategy Team