Dentist group decries dental health of state's children

Saturday, January 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Those attending a dental health summit warned that Oklahoma will pay later for dental neglect in a large majority of the state's children.

``Oklahoma, at best, gets a C grade as far as dental care,'' Tracy Nowlin, president of the Oklahoma Dental Hygienists' Association, said Friday.

The state's first Children's Oral Health Summit said Oklahoma lacks a way to screen children for dental problems that lead to gum disease and lost teeth.

The group also said few Oklahoma dentists will participate in Medicaid because of low reimbursements. Some laws were also faulted as being restrictive of the care dental hygienists can offer.

Medicaid coverage reimburses dentists about $35 or $40 for every $100 of service given, said Oklahoma Dental Association President Dr. Raymond Cohlmia.

Cohlmia estimates about 27 percent of Oklahomans receive dental care on a regular basis.

``We're trying to reach the other 73 percent,'' he said.

The meeting also said state schools need to teach dental health in every grade. Now, maybe 15 to 20 percent of Oklahoma schoolchildren receive such training, Cohlmia said.

``Some habits become entrenched at a young age. By the time people have become adults, we've either won the battle or lost them completely'' when it comes to quality dental care, Cohlmia said.

A recent federal government study showed that 25 percent of children and adolescents experience 80 percent of all dental decay in permanent teeth. Fewer than one in five children eligible for dental care through Medicaid receives preventive dental care.

The summit included members of the Oklahoma Primary Care Association, the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, the Oklahoma Dental Association, the Oklahoma Dental Hygienists' Association and the state Health Department.