Nevada youth who participated in UNLV’s Crackdown on Cancer (CDOC) Initiative had a significantly higher percentage of untreated tooth decay than the national average, according to a study conducted by researchers at UNLV’s School of Dental Medicine.
They also had a small but increasing rate of occurrence of precancerous and cancerous oral lesions associated with tobacco use.
More than 78,000 Nevada students, most between the ages of 14 and 18, were screened through the nine-year initiative, which included both research and outreach.
On average, children 13-15 years of age had approximately 30 percent more untreated tooth decay, and children 16-18 years had 35 percent more than the national average reported in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which assesses the health and nutritional status of U.S. adults and children.
The UNLV researchers are still assessing the possible causes for this higher than average prevalence, according to Marcia Ditmyer, a professor in the School of Dental Medicine.
“We suspect the strongest contributor to be lack of municipal water fluoridation in some Nevada counties, followed by exposure to environmental smoke,” Ditmyer says.
The oral cancer screenings through the CDOC program identified 2,150 tissue abnormalities, with the more severe ones referred for biopsy. The rate of oral lesions increased from 1.4 per 100 students in 2003 to 4.0 per 100 students in 2008.
The higher-than-national rate for youth tobacco use in Nevada in past years is suspected to be one of the factors associated with the increasing trends in precancerous and cancerous oral conditions, according to the researchers. However, the CDOC program has helped bring down the rate of tobacco use, says Christina Demopoulos, the CDOC grant administrator and one of the researchers involved in the study.
“At the inception of the program, Nevada was ranked number one in youth tobacco use,” she says, adding that the rates have declined more recently. The state rate of smoking prevalence among youths is now 17 percent, compared to a national rate of 19.5 percent.
However, the program is ending due to lack of funding, and the researchers wonder if the tobacco use rate will climb again. As part of the program, nearly 4,500 tobacco education presentations were delivered to more than 170,000 students. The CDOC program was supported by over $5.8 million in grant funding from the Fund for a Healthy Nevada and the Trust Fund for Public Health.