In 2000, the United States Surgeon General issued a historic report that identified oral health as a critical child health issue. Untreated tooth decay can lead to pain, inadequate nutrition and speech problems.
Nowhere in South America is the lack of preventive dental care more alarmingly evident than in Bolivia, where thousands of young people are seen with severely decayed, life threatening abscesses and missing teeth resulting from an epidemic of dental caries.
Heavy consumption of sugary, carbonated beverages such as colas exacerbates the problem. Many children and adults suffer from gum disease, and there are very few specialists available to treat it.
Dental caries and periodontal disease can result in even more serious health consequences. For example, periodontal disease can spread throughout the bloodstream and contribute to problems ranging from low birth-weight babies to stroke to heart disease.
Regular dental cleanings, X-rays, and fluoride treatments – which could help prevent the problems, are not actively being practiced in the dentist offices, nor do all Bolivian dentists promote brushing and flossing.
City-wide fluoridation in Cochabamba is impractical. The water supply is contaminated by previous mining operations and most residents buy their water in containers from private sources.
Poor dental care compounds the risks caused by inadequate sanitation and poverty that contribute to the high childhood death rate in Bolivia.