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Oral Health in Eeyou Istchee: research results and implications

January 28, 2016
Photo: T. Philiptchenko for CBHSSJB

At last, the results are in: December saw the release of the first findings of studies into the oral health of children in grades two and six across all of Quebec, including the nine communities in Eeyou Istchee. Oral health includes not just health of the teeth themselves, but that of the entire mouth (including gums, lips, and tongue) and the jaw. And good oral health is not only important for chewing; it is critical for good general health. 

The studies, conducted in 2012-13, presents some alarming statistics. When compared to grade two students across Quebec, those in Eeyou Istchee have three times more filled, decayed or missing teeth, and were four times likelier to have an obvious or urgent need for dental care. They were also more likely to have dental decay that was serious enough to require having a tooth filled or removed. Those in grade six have eight times more filled, decayed or missing teeth than those from other regions in Quebec.

But while these findings give a hint of some of Eeyou Istchee’s oral health challenges, they don’t give a complete picture. “The results released in December are simply a summary of the data,” says Evelyne Lefebvre, who heads the Cree Health Board’s regional dental hygiene team. And because this data has not yet been interpreted properly, some information may be confusing. 

For example, the study finds that children in Eeyou Istchee have higher rates of fluorosis, a mottling of the teeth from fluoride treatments – but this may not be a significant statistic. Fluorisis is not dangerous to teeth, and those children showing fluorosis are generally free of cavities. “We’re carrying out a fluoride program in schools, which is reducing cavities 40-45% so long as kids remember to brush,” says Lefebvre. “It is important that the study’s findings are clearly interpreted so that no misunderstandings arise from it.” 

While the Cree Health Board does not currently have a dental advisor to interpret the data, one will be hired soon and can then begin to clarify the survey’s findings. In the meantime, the past year has seen the Cree Health Board extend to all communities the sealant application program that it launched in 2010 as a pilot in Mistissini and Chisasibi. Sealants are preventative, as Lefebvre explains. “The sealant is a little plastic coating that will seal that groove and help prevent cavities, and it can be applied as long as the tooth is healthy – but not if there is a cavity,” she says. “They are especially helpful with back teeth. Back teeth (pre-molars and molars) have lots of grooves, so even if kids brush and floss correctly, they might not fully clean them. A sealant fills these grooves and protects the tooth, and it can last 10 or 15 years before needing to be replaced.” 

The CHB employs a number of approaches to address the oral health issues most clearly identified in the study, and is planning more. For instance, since 2010 the Awash program has been working to increase oral health activities in the first four years of a child’s life, and dental hygienists carry out oral health and nutrition activities in high schools throughout Eeyou Istchee. The CHB is also proposing a thorough fluoridation of tap water, accompanied by initiatives to ensure tap water’s safety. Finally, a strategy will be developed to integrate these various initiatives, ensuring that they reach their goal of improving the oral health of children in Eeyou Istchee.

by Patrick McDonagh