NH dentists emphasize prevention, fluoridation

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press Writer / January 18, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire dentists are encouraging primary care physicians to perform more oral health screenings and urging more communities to add fluoride to their public water supplies.

In a report being released Tuesday, the New Hampshire Dental Society outlines five goals aimed at improving oral health in a state where 39 percent of the population lacks dental insurance, less than half the public water supplies are fluoridated and many children don't get dental care.

Encouraging partnerships with primary care doctors and expanding fluoridation fall under the first goal: demonstrating the importance of prevention.

The society recommends that dentists work with hospitals, obstetricians and primary care doctors to educate parents about the benefits of early screening. For example, new parents who are taught at a hospital how to bathe their babies also could be taught about oral health care.

The group also supports a bill before the Legislature that would create a commission to study how to get pediatricians and other family physicians to do oral health screenings on children, administer fluoride varnish and refer patients to dentists when necessary.

About 40 percent of New Hampshire residents on public water supplies receive fluoridated water, the lowest percentage in New England. Connecticut and Maine have rates above 80 percent, Maine's rate is almost 80 percent and Massachusetts and Vermont are close to 60 percent, according to the report.

The report's other goals include educating the public about the correlation between oral health and general health, supporting and expanding nonprofit and school-based dental programs, enhancing the state's oral health work force and removing barriers to oral health care.

The state has about 1,000 active licensed dentists, a 33 percent increase in the last decade. But the report notes that access does not depend only on the availability of dentists. For example, patients may lack transportation or may not speak English and therefore can't call to make an appointment.

The report recommends creating central case coordinator positions, or "oral health coaches," who would reach out to individuals and families to emphasize the importance of frequent dental care and to help overcome obstacles to making and keeping appointments. It points to a program run by Monadnock Community Hospital and area dentists that includes a coordinator who links available providers with children and adults.

A recent study by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Study found that Hillsborough, Grafton and Coos counties had 6.3 dentists per 10,000 residents, compared with a national rate of 5.5. Belknap County had a rate of 4.9 and Carroll County's rate was 4.4. Sullivan County had the fewest provider at 3.3 dentists per 10,000 residents.

The New Hampshire Dental Society has more than 800 members representing more than 85 percent of the state's practicing dentists.