Open wide! A free one-day dental clinic for low-income children may be coming to a school or community center near you.
February is Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity for oral health professionals and advocates to raise awareness about the importance of getting care to kids, particularly those who might otherwise go without.
On Friday, Feb. 7, the American Dental Association is officially kicking off its 12th annual Give Kids a Smile Day program with free care for kids at the Howard University College of Dentistry here in Washington, D.C.
Similar events are being planned throughout the country. To find out what is going on in own area, check with your local or state dental society.
Give Kids a Smile clinics are typically organized differently than the big free Mission of Mercy events that have crowds of adults lining up spontaneously at fairgrounds and gymnasiums. The 175 children expected at the Howard University dental college were screened in December by volunteer dentists who visited local elementary schools. The kids will be getting their needed follow-up treatments on Give Kids a Smile Day.
The Give Kids a Smile program was organized by the ADA as a way to link dentists with local kids in need of care. It started as a one-day event but has expanded over time to include local and national events throughout the year.
Oral health providers volunteer their time and services. Each year, the ADA estimates that about 450,000 children benefit from more than 1,500 events, put on by more than 40,000 volunteers.
The events help. Yet the problem of untreated oral disease remains formidable, by the ADA’s own admission. Last year the organization launched a national campaign to address the country’s “dental crisis.”
“We’ve made great progress, with each generation enjoying better dental health than the one before,” said ADA President Robert A. Faiella, D.M.D., M.M.Sc. “But there’s still a dangerous divide in America between those with good dental health and those without. Our mission is to close that divide. Good oral health isn’t a luxury. It’s essential.”
The ADA’s national campaign, titled Action for Dental Health includes initiatives with goals such as diverting people with dental infections from hospital emergency rooms to dental clinics, providing outreach to nursing homes, getting more communities to fluoridate their water and expanding Give Kids A Smile efforts with a target of “the elimination of cavities in children under five by 2020.”
That will be a tall order.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2–5 years and half of those aged 12–15
years. About half of all poor children and two-thirds of poor adolescents have suffered from decay.
There is a lot more to be done, oral health advocates agree. And they are also using this month as an opportunity to stress the message.
“February is Children’s Dental Health Month — a good time to remember that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of early childhood (and five times more common than asthma),” notes Matt Jacob of the Children’s Dental Health Project, a D.C.-based organization that works to expand access to dental care.
Among ways to learn more about the problem, Jacob recommends reporters check out a new report, “The State of Little Teeth,” produced by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. The paper looks at topics including the prevalence of early childhood caries and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on access to dental care.