Here in Chinatown we have a public health crisis, as more than half of our children have dental caries by the time they reach kindergarten, the highest rate in the City of San Francisco and 2-3 times greater than rates in other SF neighborhoods. Tooth decay can lead to pain, poor nutrition, and school absences. Poor oral health has been associated with decreased school performance, poor social relationships, and less success later in life.
Why does this children’s oral health disparity exist in our Chinatown community? Cultural beliefs, lack of health education, and limited access to oral health providers are factors that contribute to this health disparity. For example, we have found that many Chinese families do not value children’s oral health and believe that baby teeth are unimportant (“since they will fall out anyway”). Many caregivers do not brush or floss their children’s teeth, or bring them to regular dental visits. There is also a common belief in our community that bottled water is safer to drink and thus superior to tap water. Children who do not drink tap water regularly miss out on the fluoride content in the tap water. Moreover, in spite of valiant efforts by our local oral health providers, the supply of dental appointments is often inadequate to meet the demand of our community.
I have had the honor and privilege to volunteer my time to serve as the President of the Board of NICOS Chinese Health Coalition whose mission is to enhance the health and well-being of the San Francisco Chinese community. Starting last July, we have brought together a concerned group of health professionals and community advocates to address this glaring children’s oral health disparity in our Chinatown community. The Chinatown Task Force on Children’s Oral Health was formed with the goal of eliminating this health disparity. The Task Force is engaging in a campaign to increase education and awareness, to change oral health related behaviors, and to improve access to children’s oral health care in our community. Thus far, we have held health fairs to educate our community, instituted a fluoride varnish program at Chinatown Public Health Center, built relationship with a local school to plan for future outreach, met with local government officials to promote funding opportunities, supported proposed legislation to promote decreased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, reached out to pediatricians, and supported Tap Water Station installation in our community. Working closely together, our community will eliminate this children’s oral health disparity!