When 5-year-old Julie arrived at St. Joseph's Dental Clinic in Santa Rosa last year, her pain was visible. As Dr. Cheryl Willett, a pediatric dentist and director of the clinic, tells it, the swelling was so severe it was beginning to close her eye.
Julie (not her real name) was taken to the hospital where she spent five days being treated for multiple dental infections. In the end, 12 of her 20 baby teeth were extracted — all due to infection.
Unfortunately, clinic workers see severe cases like this once a month, sometimes weekly.
“If I asked you, ‘What is the number one childhood disease affecting U.S. children,' you might say asthma, obesity or even the common cold,” Willett recently asked an audience at the Friedman Center in Santa Rosa. “But it's actually dental decay, and it's completely preventable.”
Preventable, but pervasive nonetheless. Here are a few facts concerning this quiet crisis in Sonoma County, particularly among children:
The problem is taking a toll on family pockets as well as in lost school time. More than 500,000 California children missed at least one day of school last year because of dental issues, costing school districts $29.7 million in revenue.