CHICAGO, May 25 /PRNewswire/ -- While the nation has experienced significant improvements in oral health over the past 50 years, the benefits have not reached all Americans, according to U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D. The disparities in oral health care and the critical relationship between oral health and general health prompted Secretary Donna Shalala to commission the first-ever Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health. The report calls for a national partnership to make oral health care accessible to those segments of the population who do not currently receive it. "Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General provides the wake-up call that dental hygienists have been broadcasting for decades," says Lisa B. Potter, R.D.H., president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association and a 30-year veteran dental hygienist. "Dental hygienists have always been ready to help close the gap in health care. Unfortunately, we have been blocked by regulations that prohibit us from delivering care except when a dentist is physically present." Today, because of restrictive state supervision laws, dental hygienists primarily work in private dental offices providing treatment to prevent dental caries and periodontal disease. They cannot examine or treat Medicaid-eligible children or provide care to children in schools, other institutional settings or to children who are homebound, if the dentist will not see them. Increasing access to preventive oral care services through school-based or school-linked approaches is among the wide variety of programs that can help reduce or eliminate disparities in access to oral care and improve the oral status of children. It is known that high-risk children are more likely to receive dental sealants -- one of the most effective ways to prevent decay -- if they can be provided through school-based or school-linked settings. "The profession of dental hygiene began on the premise that the most important element of oral health and tooth decay prevention was to teach children the need for general hygiene and the skills needed to care for their mouths," according to Potter. "Dental hygienists trace their origin as far back as 1843, when their primary function was to provide an added service to schoolchildren, offering teeth cleanings, instruction in brushing and flossing and education in nutrition and general hygiene." Potter points out that despite progress made during past years, tooth decay is still the most common chronic condition of children nationwide. National health surveys reveal that poor children have five times more untreated dental caries (cavities) than children in higher-income families. The Surgeon General's report underscores that communities, individuals and health professionals can adopt existing effective measures to close the gap in oral health care. Potter concludes that relaxing state regulations that restrict dental hygienists from providing much needed preventive oral health care is one solution to closing this gap. ADHA is the largest national organization representing the professional interests of the more than 100,000 licensed dental hygienists across the country. Dental hygienists are preventive oral health professionals, licensed in dental hygiene, who provide educational, clinical and therapeutic services that support total health through the promotion of optimal oral health. To view an executive summary of the report, as well as a wealth of other oral health information and a chance to receive a free toothbrush, visit www.adha.org .
SOURCE American Dental Hygienists' Association