For the second year in a row, Maine has earned an A grade for addressing children's dental health. Maine is one of only two states in the nation to receive the top rank from the Pew Center on the States for two years running.
Pew studies children's dental policies and programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In its 2011 report reviewing overall children's dental health, Maine met six of the eight benchmarks to merit an A.
Pew's recently released 2012 report was specific to dental sealants, ranking states on four criteria that measured efforts to provide more children with access to sealants.
Maine was awarded an A and was one of only two states that "received the maximum points possible."
Applying dental sealants — thin plastic coatings placed on the chewing surfaces of back teeth — is a proven method to prevent tooth decay.
And, it is cost-effective. Sealants are estimated by the Pew report to be "one-third the expense of filling a cavity."
Maine has dental sealant programs in more that 75 percent of high-need schools, those where over half of the students participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, according to Pew.
At the Maine Dental Association, we promote the health and welfare of Maine people. Our 700-plus members are proud to practice in a state that is recognized for its work to protect our children's dental health.
We know that dental care is a critical component of overall health; we see it every day in our practices.
Oral health care is especially important for our children. Dental decay is the single most common chronic disease of childhood. But, it is preventable. The more we take proper care of our children's teeth, the healthier they will be.
Over the last ten years, Maine has made significant progress in offering dental services to children across the state.
The number of children covered by MaineCare who received dental services increased from 35 percent in 2000 to 54 percent in 2010; nationally only 44 percent of children enrolled in the same program received dental care. Today in the U.S., 58 percent of children covered by private dental insurance seek treatment.
We understand that, even with this progress and Pew's high marks, there is still work to be done.
That is why MDA joined with the American Dental Association and the Ad Council to launch the Children's Oral Health campaign focused on the importance of brushing children's teeth for two minutes, twice a day. This year MDA will work to pass state legislation to require licensed day care providers to talk with children about the importance of daily oral care and to help them brush their teeth.
And, many MDA members again will volunteer their time to examine and treat children across the state.
We have plenty of hands to provide care to both Maine children and adults. All dental clinics as well as pediatric dentists are accepting new patients. Almost 95 percent of private practice dentists are also open to new patients.
In the last two years, 116 new dentists were licensed to practice in the state. New dentists far outpace those retiring, with fewer than 5 percent of dentists expected to retire in 2013.
In the coming years, the University of New England's College of Dental Medicine will add to these numbers, graduating even more practitioners, many of whom will live in Maine.
MDA will continue to educate people about the importance of oral health care and seek to provide even more Maine children and adults with quality dental services.
Dr. Michelle L. Mazur-Kary, president of the Maine Dental Association, has a dental practice in Auburn.