The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Opinion

September 8, 2010

Dental hygiene

— One evening a few years back, a fellow placed a telephone call to a close friend. The friend’s wife answered the phone and said her husband would be right with him, that he was cutting up a green pepper.

Not for a salad, mind you. Not for a pizza.

No, he simply wanted a snack, and as was his custom, he chose vegetables or fruit over junk food.

Know something else? Although well into his 50s, he still had perfect teeth to show for it.

Somewhere along the way, probably at a young age from his parents, he learned the importance of good dental hygiene.

According to crest.com, healthy eating habits lead to healthy teeth. Many snacks that children eat can lead to the formation of cavities. If your child must snack, the website advises, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables, low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheese.

It appears that message is still falling on deaf ears for a number of West Virginia parents.

It was reported this week that a Marshall University program that offers free dental care at school found that more than 43 percent of the children seen during the first year had untreated dental decay.

And here’s the surprising part: Nearly nine in 10 children had some form of dental insurance coverage.

“I truly believe it’s an educational thing,” Marshall oral health coordinator Bobbi Muto said. “... I don’t think we place a value on dental care and dental services like we should.”

After more than 400 students were screened last year in Wood County, dental hygienist Mary Beth Shea said most had received no preventive services before that, whether in the form of cleaning, fluoride treatment or sealants.

The Marshall program, known as the West Virginia School Community Partnership, offers exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants. Last year, 10 counties received grants to treat more than 2,300 children.

The program is aimed at changing generational attitudes about oral health by reaching children earlier.

As the numbers show, dental professionals still have a ways to go to change those attitudes, but at least this is a start.

Parents must understand how important a health issue this is.

So many health problems, including heart disease, start and are exacerbated by poor oral hygiene habits and care. It’s a crisis, but one that can be solved if parents place the proper emphasis and priority on the issue.

This is not a new story, but if West Virginia ever expects to reverse the trend, it must start with proper treatment for children.

So the next time your child asks for a mid-evening snack, insist on a piece of fruit. And take advantage of programs that stand ready to help.

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