Blog Post

Insight: Oral Health in Utah

By: Julia Martin

“Good oral health is critical for children, as it can affect their overall health, social adjustment, appearance, school performance, and ability to thrive”[1]

Oral health is an often overlooked and ignored health status in Utah. The state’s most recent oral health campaign focused on Utah adolescents,[2] while this is a step in the right direction, there needs to be a bigger emphasis on childhood oral health. Unfortunately, the most recent data for childhood oral health is from the 2015-2016 Oral Health Status of Utah’s Children. According to this report, there is a “concerning level of oral disease among Utah elementary school children”[3] (refer to Table 1 for a general summary of childhood oral health). These concerning childhood oral health discoveries are further correlated with racial/ethnic minority status, federally funded public health insurance, and geographic location.

Dental Sealants

“A person’s ability to access oral health care is associated with factors such as education level, income, race, and ethnicity”[4]

Dental sealants are a low-cost and integral intervention of preventative dental care. Dental sealants help inhibit and reduce the effect of cavities. There are serious and visible disparities in childhood oral health when one accounts for the utilization of dental sealants. Children enrolled in Medicaid have a higher percentage of cavities experienced (75.6% vs. 63.9% for private insurance). A likely determinant of this high cavity occurrence is the decreased utilization of dental sealants – 32.9% of children on Medicaid have dental sealants while nearly 50% (49.3%) of Children on private insurance have dental sealants. Furthermore, children of racial and ethnic minorities have a lower utilization rate of dental sealants (33% vs 45%).[5] Specifically, Hispanic children are more likely to experience untreated tooth decay (25% vs. 18% for their non-Hispanic counterparts) and have greater unmet dental needs (15% vs 4%). These high prevalence rates can be attributed to the higher likelihood that children of Hispanic origin do not have dental insurance (26% of children from Hispanic origin do not have dental insurance).[6] Children who qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch programs likewise have higher rate