Report: More than half of Minn. 3rd graders have tooth decay

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About 55 percent of Minnesota third graders suffer from tooth decay, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The good news: That rate is not high by comparison – it's only slightly higher than the national average of 53 percent for children 6 to 8 years old.

The bad: Tooth decay is 100 percent preventable, and an average of $49 million a year in hospital charges for treating non-traumatic dental emergencies could be prevented, the department notes in a press release.

The department, with various stakeholders, has created a 49-page plan that outlines populations most at risk for oral disease, the obstacles to routine dental care, and strategies to improve care and save money.

The report noted that tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, 5 times more common than asthma. Another eye-opening statistic from the report: 18 percent of third graders had untreated cavities.

The report also concluded that low-income children are more likely to have oral diseases than more affluent peers.

"It is simply unacceptable to have so many of our children and adults negatively affected by these preventable dental conditions," Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota commissioner of health, said. "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."

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