Our United Voice

Healthy Smiles, Healthy Lives

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sometimes I feel like oral health is the Rodney Dangerfield of health care!   Rodney was an American comedian and actor, known for the catchphrase "I don't get no respect!" Did you know that more than 10 years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General called oral health disease a “silent epidemic”?

Today I am speaking out and educating about an infectious disease deemed to be the single most common chronic childhood disease. Dental caries, commonly known as tooth decay, is in fact an infectious disease.  By definition an infectious or communicable disease is caused by a biological agent such as a virus, bacterium or parasite that invades the host organism by a foreign replicator, generally microorganisms or microbes that are invisible to the naked eye; microbes that cause illness are also known as pathogens. The most common pathogens are various bacteria and viruses, though other microorganisms, including some kinds of fungi and protozoa, also cause disease. An infectious disease is termed contagious if it is easily transmitted from one person to another- as is the case with tooth decay.

A new slogan I use to educate people of all ages is this: Cavities are Catching!!!  This is a major yuck factor for adolescents who are reaching out to kiss someone they are newly attracted to when they hear me tell them why they need to first look inside their friend’s mouth before kissing them!  Tired, stressed, mothers who first look left, then right, before popping that dropped pacifier into their own mouth to “clean” it before returning it to their baby have been known to rub their tongues across their teeth to feel for cavities when they hear this! If moms have caries I tell them to not test for heat by touching the baby spoon of food their lips- caries are contagious. And, yes, this impacts babies with no visible teeth.

Dental caries results in cavities forming in teeth. Tooth decay can have a detrimental effect on children’s quality of life, their performance at school, and their success later in life.  According to a report issued in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the daily reality for millions of children with poor oral health is persistent dental pain, endurance of dental abscesses (abscesses can result in death), inability to chew foods well, embarrassment about discolored and damaged teeth, and distraction from play and learning. In fact, research tells us that acute dental pain, caused by dental caries, has a strong effect on children, families, day care centers and schools that is often equal to and sometimes greater than the effect of asthma.

Those who are able to speak out - educate, advocate and give - unlike children who are often unable to verbalize their oral pain, are welcome to join with us at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry as we work to change “the silent epidemic” about oral health disease into an epidemic we address.  Let’s all work to end the suffering.  When children’s oral health suffers, so does their ability to learn. The American Journal of Public Health reports that “elementary and high school students from families with low incomes who could not access needed oral health care in the last 12 months are three times as likely to miss school because of oral health problems as those who could access needed care”.

When children are healthy they can learn. When children learn we all win!

Deborah Wade is the Program Coordinator, Innovation and Community Engagement at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. She attended University of Kentucky for both undergraduate and graduate school, and has a Master's Degree in Social Work.  She previously lived and worked in Lexington for 18 years before moving to Anchorage, Kentucky approximately 16 years ago. You can read more about the work Deborah is doing in the community here.
You can reach Deborah at Deborah.Wade@louisville.edu and on Twitter at @debnwade.


  1. Yeah Deborah! Especially like your shout out for tired stressed out moms...and the pacifier cleanse...that is real life!

  2. Wow, that final stat that kids with dental health problems are three times as likely to miss school is really eye-opening!

    The Rodney Dangerfield of health care indeed! Thanks for sharing this, Deborah.

  3. Thanks for all of this great information, Deborah! Most people probably don't realize that poor oral health in children can have a negative effect on their performance at school.


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