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Focus On Island Children During Nantucket Oral Health Community Forum

Island dentists, along with medical staff from Nantucket Cottage Hospital and other concerned stakeholders convened earlier this month for the first Nantucket Oral Health Community Forum, an effort to forge an integrated and effective oral health care program for island children under the age of 12.

The forum, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Nantucket in conjunction with Nantucket Cottage Hospital, was an opportunity for a wide range of caregivers and concerned citizens to explore the issues, share their experiences and exchange ideas for solutions.

Over the past 15 years, caries - defined as tooth decay resulting from poor oral health care - has become a silent epidemic among the nation’s high-risk children, and a growing problem on Nantucket. Children as young as 4-years-old have been forced to leave the island to have decaying teeth removed.

Participants identified a number of impediments to proper oral health care for island children, including financial and insurance issues, education, and language barriers among parents. An awareness campaign, along with education for new mothers, providing a catalog of resources, and the development of a strategic, integrated oral health care plan were all cited as potential solutions. The group will now condense the information gathered during the forum into a blue-print for a community-based plan to create a safety net for all high-risk children and their parents. It will include education, awareness, involvement, communication-sharing, service availability, and propose changes to the way the community views oral health and its impact. Future forums are being planned.

“The forum was an excellent opportunity for island dentists and our doctors from the hospital to collaborate and discuss this important issue,” said Dr. Margot Hartmann, who attended the forum with a number of NCH staff members. “Improving the oral health of our children is a priority and this was a significant first step toward that goal.”

The forum was attended by over 25 medical and dental professionals from both Nantucket and the mainland.

Donna Hamel, President of Rotary Club of Nantucket, and Dr. Hartmann, opened the forum stressing the importance of the community coming together to form an organized initiative to address means to better serve the youngest of our at-risk children.

"We at the Rotary are so very pleased with the number of professionals that turned-out at our first forum and are even more pleased to see that there is a very clear consensus among these attendees about the seriousness of the issue and that as a community we must come together and look to producing solutions that will benefit our children".

According to Amos Deinard, MD, M.P.H, Department of Pediatrics of the University of Minnesota, among the high-risk children, 20 percent of two-year olds to 50-60 percent of five-year olds have caries, which if left untreated results in systemic, long-term effects such as increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Caries is the most common chronic disease of childhood, five times more prevalent than asthma and seven times more prevalent than hay fever.  Dr. Deinard is a frequent visitor to Nantucket and has been a force in bringing the issue of caries to the forefront on the island.