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Response to Pew report's failing grade for Indiana
To the Pew Center and Hoosier parents and children:
In late May, the PEW Center on the States shocked many Hoosiers with its announcement that Indiana was one of five states with a failing grade when it comes to children’s dental health.
Does Indiana deserve an F? Probably not. PEW’s assessment was based on eight benchmarks, some of which have little to do with the actual dental health of our children. But there is no doubt that we are failing some of our kids. The IU School of Dentistry’s Division of Community Dentistry reports that as many as half of low-income school children have untreated dental decay. Forget letter grades. That statistic demands the attention of parents, policymakers and the dental profession.
There is good news. PEW reports that 95 percent of Hoosiers receive optimally fluoridated water, and fluoridation reduces dental decay rates by 18-40 percent. This single benchmark is incredibly important. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited fluoridation of drinking water as one of the 20th century’s ten greatest public health achievements.
So where are we going wrong? Five of PEW’s eight benchmarks relate directly to state or local funding. In short, Indiana is spending less money on our kids’ teeth. The Dental Division at the Indiana State Department of Health has experienced significant budget reductions in recent years. And last year, the Indiana State Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning issued an emergency order slashing dental Medicaid reimbursement rates by five percent. Times have been tough and the State has been forced to tighten its belt. But as the economy improves, it is imperative that we restore funding to dental public health programs that were already functioning on shoestring budgets.
There are additional steps that can be taken that PEW neglected to mention. Perhaps the most important benchmark of all involves the role of parents play in the dental health of their children. Children’s dental health is a partnership between parents and dental professionals. For simple steps you can take to help assure your child’s dental health visit BornToSmile.org and DrinksDestroyTeeth.com, two public service programs of the Indiana Dental Association.
Martin R. Szakaly, DDS
Indiana Dental Association
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