Our state is known for its history of firsts: we had the nation's first public school system, the first constitution and the first public health department. However, when it comes to the simple issue of children's oral health, the Commonwealth has fallen far behind. We can do something about this. When communities work together to make children's oral health a statewide priority, kids gain access to much needed services and prevention.
Business owners in Massachusetts have diverse needs and interests, but we all have one thing in common: we need a capable and healthy workforce to make our businesses successful. That future workforce is today's children. As the President and CEO of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, I am concerned with what the U.S. Surgeon General identified as a “silent epidemic” in the health of our children – dental disease. I was surprised to learn that tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, five times more common than asthma, and that it can affect a child’s overall health. In fact, untreated tooth decay can have profound effects on the ability of our children to grow and learn. Oral disease keeps kids out of school and later out of work.
We can do a better job of taking care of our future workforce. Nearly half of all children in our state have experienced dental disease by the time they reach third grade. Children with tooth decay have trouble eating, speaking and paying attention in class. They are also at risk for other illnesses, because oral health is an important part of a child’s overall health. Unless we begin to treat it as such, we risk the education, health and future of our state’s children. And by risking their future, we jeopardize the economic health and future of our business community and state.
As a business leader, I also appreciate innovation and a proven track record. A report from the Centers for Disease Control shows that preventive services, such as screenings, dental sealants and fluoride protection, have significantly lowered the incidence of child and adolescent tooth decay over the past fifteen years. If we increase access to these preventive services in schools and community-based clinics, we can make an enormous difference in the health of our children. If we include oral health in pre-kindergarten health exams we can also catch many problems early and put kids on a healthy path to learning.
Business and community leaders can bring our expertise to bear on this problem by brainstorming more creative ways to recruit dentists to practice in our rural and underserved areas. Together, we represent a strong contingent of influence and experience. The business sector is full of innovative thinkers who regularly create successful solutions to their own corporate problems. We should come together now on behalf of our future stock clerks, customer service reps, technicians and managers. Together, we can improve the oral health and general health of our children. Our very future depends on our commitment to the health and success of our young people. We can't afford to defer on these investments.
Richard C. Lord
President and CEO
Associated Industries of Massachusetts