Tooth decay: it's nearly 100 percent preventable, but it's one of Minnesota's most common childhood diseases. A new state health department report says 55 percent of third graders have cavities. That's higher than the national rate of 53 percent for children six to eight years old. The state is developing a strategy for improving oral health and reducing soaring medical costs. dental sealants and more water fluoridation are among the solutions.

The Minnesota Department of Health and others have produced the Minnesota Oral Health Plan: Advancing Optimal Oral Health for All Minnesotans. It outlines the populations most at risk for oral disease, the obstacles to routine dental care, and strategies for improving oral health and reducing millions of dollars of unnecessary medical costs.

Low-income children eligible for free or reduced lunch were 1.5 times more likely to have tooth decay and almost three times more likely to have the decay go untreated than more affluent peers.

Inadequate dental care has long-term health and cost consequences, namely $148 million in emergency department charges in Minnesota between 2007 and 2010 for preventable, non-traumatic conditions that could have been treated by a dental provider.

"It is simply unacceptable to have so many of our children and adults negatively affected by these preventable dental conditions," said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota commissioner of health. "We have to do a better job investing in public health and access to routine dental care. If we do this, we can significantly reduce oral disease and health care costs in Minnesota."

Read the Minnesota Oral Health Plan online.

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