Tooth Truths

Why Kemple’s Mission Matters

Oral disease is a serious problem for Oregonians of all ages and backgrounds. Although it affects a majority of the population, this silent epidemic is seldom recognized as a public health priority.

Oral diseases affect what we eat, how we look, the way we communicate, and how we feel about ourselves. They can also affect academic success and economic productivity by limiting our ability to learn, work and succeed. In Central Oregon, through our campaign of outreach, education and prevention, Kemple Clinic’s mission is to keep our youngest and most vulnerable community members from experiencing the pain, inconvenience, embarrassment and health problems associated with tooth decay.

Oral diseases put a significant strain on our health care system. For example, the cost associated with treating patients with nontraumatic dental problems in Oregon’s emergency rooms is estimated at $8 million per year, and recent studies have related poor oral health with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The toll of these diseases is all the more tragic because they are almost entirely preventable, and the cost of prevention is far lower than the cost of treatment.

Infants and Children

Tooth decay — the result of an oral infection — is Oregon’s most common chronic childhood disease, with rates up to four times higher than that of asthma. According to the 2012 Oregon Smile Survey, 58 percent of third-graders have experienced tooth decay.

In addition to the needless suffering childhood dental problems cause, they frequently interfere with social development and academic success. Children with poor oral health are nearly three times more likely than other children to miss school. Nationally, children miss more than 51 million school hours each year due to dental pain.

Prenatal oral care is crucial to preventing early childhood oral disease, as is a comprehensive dental screening and risk assessment by age 1. Unfortunately, fewer than 50 percent of expecting mothers in Oregon receive an oral exam during pregnancy, and only 22 percent of children ages 1 to 3 have had a dental visit in the past year. Kemple Clinic is committed to changing that reality in Central Oregon.

Economic Costs and Health Disparities

Just as oral health is inseparable from systemic health, the costs associated with oral disease are inseparable from Oregon’s systemic health care costs.

Lifelong preventive dental care can reduce the economic burden not just of chronic oral disease, but also of high- cost visits to hospital emergency rooms for tooth pain, abscesses, infections and other acute problems. However, studies show that a high percentage of Oregonians are not currently receiving timely preventive care. Only about two- thirds of Oregon adults visit the dentist at least once a year.

Racial, economic and geographic factors strongly affect access to timely prevention and treatment. Black, Hispanic, multiracial, and rural Oregonians receive dental care at rates well below the state average, as do Oregonians at lower income and education levels. Accordingly, rates of tooth decay and gum disease are much higher among these populations. For example, 68 percent of Hispanic children have had at least one cavity, compared to only 47 percent of white children. At Kemple, we’re dedicated to reaching our communities’ children where they are: at their schools, their community gathering places and the places they play. With our screen & seal events, we’re able to apply fluoride varnish and dental sealants and protect children’s teeth, and spread the message about the importance of oral care habits at home. We are dedicated to alleviating the challenges brought on by oral health disease to all members of our community.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is a chronic infectious disease caused by multiple bacterial species residing in a sticky biofilm called plaque. These bacteria produce acid that damages tooth enamel, eventually causing cavities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that tooth decay is “the most common chronic disease of children aged 6 to 11 years and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years.” Furthermore, 90 percent of adults age 20 and older have some degree of tooth decay. Infections resulting from tooth decay may be severe enough to require emergency treatment.

Population-based preventive measures — including water fluoridation and dental sealants — and individual preventive measures, such as the daily use of fluoride toothpaste, are equally important in reducing tooth decay. Together, these treatments greatly reduce the risk that an individual will suffer the physical, emotional and financial problems associated with tooth decay.

Periodontal Diseases

Periodontal diseases are bacterial infections that affect the gums, soft tissue, and bone around the teeth. They typically begin with gum inflammation, or gingivitis, resulting from a buildup of plaque along the gum line. Untreated gingivitis may progress to periodontitis — a serious infection of bone and supportive tissue that can result in tooth loss.

Daily brushing and flossing can prevent the onset of gingivitis. However, because periodontal diseases may not produce any symptoms, regular dental checkups are essential.

Additional Resources

Oregon Healthy Futures 2013

2012 Oregon Smile Survey

This information is courtesy of the Strategic Plan for Oral Health in Oregon: 2014-2020, which highlights strategies that will deliver better care, better health and lower costs for Oregonians of all ages and backgrounds. To read more details, visit the complete document: