Dental and periodontal disease are infectious bacterial diseases affecting both children and adults, causing tooth decay, caries (cavities), ulcerations, and bone loss. It is probably the most common - yet the most preventable - disease known to man. By the age of 18, about 80 percent of American children have experienced tooth decay, making it five times more common than asthma. While the occurrence of tooth decay in the U.S. has declined over the last 30 years, certain groups suffer more than others from dental disease - including both low-income and minority children.
Several factors affect an individual's dental health:
- the rate of tooth decay and other dental problems;
- their ability to get and pay for dental treatment;
- diet and dietary habits; and
- fluoride levels in the water supply.
Unfortunately, those individuals at highest risk of dental disease are also the least likely to have access to dental care.
A common belief is that tooth decay is a natural and minor issue that deserves little attention or dollars. However, if left untreated, tooth decay can lead to needless pain and suffering, difficulty in speaking, chewing, and swallowing, lost school and work days, increased cost of care, and low self-esteem. In 2009, California school children ages 5 to 17 years missed 874,000 school days due to dental problems (source) - an average of 12 days per 100 students.
The good news is that most oral diseases can be prevented. Some of the methods to prevent tooth decay include dental sealants, drinking fluoridated water, using toothpaste that contains fluoride, limiting sugar intake, and having access to dental care (Sonoma Smiles Survey, 2014). Sonoma County is working towards facilitating all of these measures.