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 WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Public Health Service's (PHS) oral health coordinating committee reported today that dental decay -- despite a 20-year decline resulting primarily from fluoride use -- probably remains the most common yet easily preventable disease of American children.
 The PHS committee said that by the time they graduate from high school, 84 percent of young people have had one or more caries, or "cavities," in their permanent teeth.
 Furthermore, the committee said, infections of gum tissue (gingivitis and periodontal disease) occur widely in children as well as adults, affecting about half of all Americans.
 Robert J. Collins, DMD, MPH, PHS chief dental officer, chaired the committee. He and other committee members report these findings in the November-December Public Health Reports, the journal of the PHS, which was published today. The findings are based on national surveys by PHS agencies (the National Institute of Dental Research and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and by the Health Care Financing Administration.
 The committee said that while fluorides protect smooth surfaces of the teeth, caries in the pits and fissures of teeth continue to occur.
 Dental sealants, a plastic coating, can prevent most of these caries on the biting surfaces of teeth, but, the committee said, in a recent year less than 11 percent of children had this relatively inexpensive preventive.
 Other findings include:
 -- In 1992, an estimated 30,000 new cases of mouth and throat cancer were diagnosed, and more than 8,000 deaths occurred, making this disease -- which often can be spotted in early stages during a dental exam -- more common than such cancers as leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, melanoma of the skin or cancer of the brain, cervix, ovary, liver, pancreas, bone, thyroid, testes or stomach.
 -- African-American and other minority children as well as those from low-income families had higher levels of untreated dental disease. These are the groups with the least access to primary dental care.
 -- In some children, a rampant decay results from the frequent or prolonged use of baby bottles containing milk, sugared water, fruit juice or other sugary beverages during the day and night, sometimes used to quiet infants outside of ordinary feeding times. Correction of the baby bottle decay can be costly, traumatic and even risky, the committee said, since the restorative work may have to be done under general anesthesia.
 The report says dental problems wear down children's stamina, sometimes produce constant pain, often have a significant impact on general health and may indirectly result in death. (Dental and oral diseases and the treatment required can result, for example, in infective endocarditis, an infection of the lining membrane of the heart with a 50 percent mortality rate.)
 The PHS committee said, "One of the principal barriers to dental care is cost. More than 150 million Americans have no dental insurance coverage. Public programs pay for less than 3 percent of all dental services and eligibility for these programs is highly variable."
 Philip R. Lee, M.D., administrator of the Public Health Service commented: "The committee's report shows how much the dental benefits for children under President Clinton's Health Security Act could mean. The Health Security Act would provide the sealants and other preventive treatments that the committee said are needed by our children -- and would produce a corresponding improvement in their health, their strength and even their scholarship."
 The PHS committee said that in 1991 and 1992, fiscal crises in many states resulted in cuts in assistance to the poor that were deeper than any since the early 1980s. The committee said, "Further improvement of the oral and general health of Americans can be accelerated by ensuring improved access to primary preventive and early intervention services."
 The 20-year decline in cavities that has occurred, the committee said, resulted from community water fluoridation, increased use of toothpastes containing fluorides, the use of fluoride supplements and rinses, fluorides in prepared foods and beverages and changes in diet, such as decreased sugar consumption.
 -0- 11/29/93
 /CONTACT: Bill Grigg of the U.S. Public Health Service, 202-690-6867, or, home, 301-652-1864/

CO: U.S. Public Health Service ST: District of Columbia IN: HEA SU: EXE

DC-DT -- DC004 -- 8149 11/29/93 09:06 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Nov 29, 1993

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