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Dental health deteriorating in Haldimand and Norfolk

SIMCOE, ON, APRIL 4, 2008 – We seem to be losing the battle for good dental health in Haldimand and Norfolk Counties, despite an extensive child screening process and dental health promotional programs.

The deteriorating state of dental health in the two counties is outlined in a Dental Health Report released today by the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit. The report cites a rising incidence of cavities among surveyed seven-year-olds and 13-year-olds.

In 2002, 52.1% of seven-year-olds surveyed and 60.2% of 13-year-olds surveyed were cavity free. By 2007, those statistics had dropped to 44.7% and 47.6% respectively.

In the past seven years, the Health Unit’s dental hygienist has screened more than 34,272 elementary students in the counties and found 10.5% of them with urgent dental needs requiring immediate treatment.

“It is apparent that there are some formidable challenges in dental health in Haldimand and Norfolk,” said Health Unit Epidemiologist Deanna Morris,” who authored the report.

Dental Hygienist Kim Casier speculated a number of factors could be responsible for the decline in dental health, including poverty levels, health disparities associated with living in a rural area, poor diet and consumption of super-big sugar-filled drinks promoted by some fast-food chains.

Other potential factors impacting the situation include less education about dental health in the schools and the absence of fluoride in rural drinking water. Casier also noted that more people are now using non-fluoridated bottled water.

Casier pointed out that deteriorating dental health is not just a local problem. She referenced a U.S. study released last year citing pre-packaged sugary foods, sugary drinks and non-fluoridated bottled water as likely reasons for the reversal of four decades of progress against tooth decay.
Nevertheless, dental health care in Haldimand and Norfolk still falls short of the Ontario mark in some areas. The research shows that only 38.4% of Haldimand and Norfolk residents follow the Ontario Dental Association’s recommendation to visit the dentist more than once a year for checkups, compared to 43.7% for Ontario as a whole.

Furthermore, only 70.9% of Haldimand and Norfolk residents age 12 and over report brushing their teeth twice or more each day, consistent with Ontario Dental Association recommended guidelines, compared to 80.4% for Ontario as a whole.

Also, the average incidence of oral cavity and pharynx cancer is higher in Haldimand and Norfolk at 11.3/100,000, compared to Ontario as a whole at 10.3/100,000.

The report also notes that more than one-third of the population does not have dental insurance that covers all or part of their dental expenses. Even some employer-sponsored dental plans may not be adequate, the report cautions.

“The Dental Health Report is the first focused dental report to be completed for Haldimand and Norfolk,” Morris noted. “It gives us an overview of dental health in the community and demonstrates the Health Unit’s commitment to improving the oral health of the community through oral health promotion initiatives targeted to individuals, parents, community partners and schools.”

“Oral health is a critical component of overall health and well-being among children and adults,” Casier pointed out. “Dental disease restricts activities in school, work and home and often significantly diminishes the quality of life for many children and adults, especially those who are low-income or have no dental benefits.”

The Health Unit conducts oral health dental screening in Haldimand and Norfolk elementary schools and various community sites to identify children in need of dental treatment. The number of children screened has increased with each successive year and more than doubled in 2006 compared to 2002.

The Health Unit also maintains a “2 for 2” dental health promotion campaign, targeted at Grade 2 students, that encourages children to brush their teeth two times each day for two minutes each time. “Children who practise self-care activities, like tooth brushing, are more likely to adopt other healthy lifestyle behaviours as adults,” Casier explained.

In 2008, the Health Unit launched a Re-Think Your Drink Campaign aimed at increasing awareness about what constitutes a healthy drink, with a view towards encouraging children to decrease their use of high-sugar beverages.

This report makes the following recommendations:

  • To adopt health promotion strategies to improve dental health status in Haldimand and Norfolk that focus on primary prevention and not primary care.
  • To support initiatives that advocate on behalf of child poverty, as child poverty negatively affects dental health status.
  • To create awareness of oral health disparities in Haldimand and Norfolk associated with living in a rural community and adopt appropriate strategies to address these disparities.
  • To increase awareness of oral health care services among service providers that may facilitate a seamless infrastructure of service delivery to improve the quality of oral health care among Haldimand and Norfolk residents.

Media Contact:
Deanna Morris, Epidemiologist, Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519-426-6170 Ext. 3215 or 905-318-6623 Ext. 3215