KTVU-TV (FOX) San Francisco, CA

Health Reporting

AHCJ Award.jpg

AWARD WINNER: 2012 National Health Award, Public Health Category (Association of Healthcare Journalists)

The Dental Epidemic of Alameda County

Alameda County’s children have some of the worst teeth in the country – a problem hidden inside their mouths that the Surgeon General calls the “silent epidemic.” It was first documented in 2006, when a dental health assessment outlined the crisis in a study. 

In June 2011, I discovered the study while searching online for historical health research papers about Alameda County. After reading the 2006 report, my intention was to produce a story to update the progress that had been made over the last five years. A conversation with the county dental health administrator, however, revealed that the problem had actually gotten worse – “epidemic” in proportion -- as the he tells us on camera.

Our three-pronged series attempts to answer three key questions: 1) How bad is the problem?  2) What organic factors contributed to cause and transmission of children’s dental disease over the years? 3) In the wake of heavy budget cuts, what is the community doing about its crisis?

Many families in Alameda County don’t have access to dental care because of social and cultural challenges -- lack of money, language and cultural barriers, and lack of health insurance.  Many politely refused to go on camera. We tell their story through the people helping them – dentists, health advocates, a school principal, and the county dental health administrator.

Our series helped to ignite action. In November 2011, six months after we began our inquiries, the Alameda County dental health administrator released a new 28-page dental health strategic plan for the county. It calls for stepped up community action over the next five years (2012-2017) and provides a guideline for achieving measurable results. 

On January 26, 2012, California Senate Bill 694 -- a bill to improve dental health “especially to the most vulnerable children” -- was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support by the state Senate.