Community Column: We are better than this
By Alberto Moreno, Executive Director of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition
We are greater than this. As a people. As a city. Portland.
And yet every year thousands of children sit in classrooms, unable to concentrate. Unable to learn. Their mouths filled with aching, rotting teeth.
Children. Our children. They are the quiet ones. Those who have retreated into themselves. The ones who are ashamed to smile. I know. The memory of it resides in my own mouth. An alkaline memory. Unrelenting, gnawing pain that keeps you up at night. And it is not just our children. I have known grown men whom, unable to afford care, have taken a pair of pliers and pulled out their own teeth, or filed down their own teeth with a rusty file. It is true.
Pero, we are better than this. Our children should not have to sit there with a mouth full of rotting teeth.
And yet, thousands of them do. Every year.
In our state, Latino children continue to have a higher rate of oral disease than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts.
National data suggest that a higher proportion of Mexican American children ages 12 to 23 months experience dental cavities than other race/ethnicity groups. Mexican American children aged 2 to 4 are more likely to have experienced dental cavities in their primary teeth, have on average more decayed and filled tooth surfaces, and have more untreated disease than either White or African American children. Mexican American children aged 2 to 5 years — especially those from lower-income households — were more likely than their African American and white counterparts to have one or more decayed primary teeth.
And still, 46 percent of Oregon Hispanic children have untreated dental cavities as compared to 34 percent of non-Hispanic whites. It is true.
I know. When I first came to this great country I arrived with a mouth full of cavities. And when Mama, after a year of searching, finally found someone willing to look at my mouth, the dentist shook his head. And then he began to drill, on my teeth. All of them. No novacaine. Nothing. Nada. I still remember. I was 9.
Pero this country is better than that. We have enough educated dentists and universities that produce them every year. That is not the problem. The problem is that health has become a commodity, and only those who can afford insurance are granted access.
And so our children sit there. Waiting for us to do the right things.
It is a quiet, invisible epidemic.
But we are greater than this. We have sent brave men to the Moon. We have surpassed the speed of sound and have the potential to surpass the speed of darkness. We have even played peek-a-boo with the elusive God particle. We have done these great things. If we can play footsie with God, we can rescue our children from a childhood of gnawing pain.
Si se puede. Fortunately, there is a solution. And it is safe and proven. And we are the only major city in the U.S. which is not taking advantage of it. Fluoride.
Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral which has been scientifically proven to protect our teeth from cavities. It costs just pennies per person to put it in our drinking water, but can save us millions of dollars a year in saved costs for unnecessary tooth decay.
All that is necessary is for us to agree that all of our children deserve healthy teeth. It is a social justice issue. More importantly, more simply, it is the right thing to do.
The Oregon Latino Health Coalition is dedicated to eliminating the health disparities faced by the half million Latinos who live, pray, and work in Oregon.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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