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Pew issues ‘correction’

Washington—The Pew Children's Dental Campaign 'revised and corrected' an issue brief challenged by the Association as using "erroneous calculations to buttress its arguments that New Zealand's use of dental therapists is responsible for better oral health among New Zealand children than those in the U.S."

Pew introduced the revised issue brief at pewstates.org, "Dental Therapists in New Zealand: What the Evidence Shows," with this "Correction: An earlier version of this brief used mislabeled data from a 2012 report produced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, to compare dental health outcomes for children in the United States and New Zealand. This brief and the original CDC source report have been revised and corrected."

The original issue brief asserted that "among 5- to 11-year-olds, the treatment disparity is the most dramatic. In New Zealand, 3 percent of children in this age range have untreated tooth decay, compared with 20 percent of U.S. kids."

While New Zealand's 3 percent rate may be accurate for permanent teeth, the report referenced by Pew (2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey) notes that 17 percent of baby teeth in New Zealand's 5- to 11-year olds have untreated decay, the Association said in a May 6 press release. That adds up to a total of 20 percent, which is a reading of the data confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ADA said.

"Ultimately, a 20 percent rate of untreated decay in children is unacceptable in any country," ADA President Dr. Robert A. Faiella said. The ADA press release said Pew's "significant error" is "unfortunately glaring… in assuming that the 20 percent figure represented permanent teeth only (originally reported by the CDC in May 2012; corrected in June), when in fact the CDC reports the statistic is for both primary and permanent teeth."

"Unfortunately, debates about midlevel providers have threatened to drown out discussions of how to extend known, proven solutions to greater numbers of Americans who lack access to dental care, many of them suffering with untreated disease," Dr. Faiella said.  A separate Association letter to the Pew Charitable Trusts chief executive officer pointed to "highly flawed interpretations of data."

An "errata" statement posted May 7 at pewstates.org said, "Pew has been made aware of an unpublicized revision to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which was used in the analysis and preparation of the…issue brief" and said two charts "appear to have been mislabeled, one referring to the rate of untreated tooth decay in permanent teeth and one referring to the rate of tooth decay in permanent teeth among children of varying income levels."

The "errata" statement said Pew is "working with the CDC to gain a fuller understanding of the unpublicized revision that was apparently made last summer and how it impacts the findings of the report, as well as analyzing any additional relevant data or data that have been released since the brief was issued." The addition of an "errata" statement was the only observable change in the issue brief posted online May 8.

Pew later replaced the "errata" statement with the "correction" and made editorial changes to the conclusion of the issue brief that included this additional statement, "Although both countries need to work to improve oral health outcomes for their youth, New Zealand is achieving outcomes similar to those in the United States using different providers and a far more cost-effective system of care." 

The Association said in a May 3 letter to Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of Pew Charitable Trusts, "We hope you agree that it is in everyone's interest that the [Pew Center on the States' Children's Dental Health] Campaign takes steps to correct this error as intently and purposefully as it did in promoting the [issue] brief.

"Because the Campaign has made the New Zealand comparison a centerpiece of its advocacy for dental therapists in the media, state legislatures and elsewhere, we too will work to correct the record publicly through those same channels – with the media, lawmakers and others who share our larger goal," said the letter signed by Dr. Faiella, ADA president, and Dr. Kathleen O'Loughlin, executive director.

The letter noted that ADA and Pew "share an overarching common goal, improving the oral health of our nation's children" and said in closing, "We are grateful that Pew has lent its powerful presence to this effort, and we look forward to continuing our work together through the many strategies on which we agree."