Prevention is the Key to Promoting Oral Health Among Children

Preventing dental disease is critical to maintaining overall health.  This is the message of National Children’s Dental Health Month, an annual health observance of the American Dental Association to raise awareness among families and policymakers about the importance of good oral health habits for children.  Dental caries remains the single most chronic disease of childhood, with childhood dental decay being five times more common than childhood asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.

Michigan Community Health Centers are on the front lines every day, helping combat dental disease.  As part of the comprehensive primary and preventive health care services they provide, many Health Centers also offer dental care, from cleanings, to fillings, to fluoride treatments and beyond.  The doors of Community Health Centers are open to everyone in the community, regardless of whether individuals have public, private, or no insurance, and their services are affordable because fees are based on a patient’s income and family size.

According to Burden of Oral Disease in Michigan, a 2005-2006 report of the Michigan Department of Community Health, children lacking dental insurance and children of lower socioeconomic status are most likely to have immediate dental needs.  Uninsured children are 2.5 times less likely to visit a dentist and 3 times more likely to have dental health needs as compared to children with public or private insurance. 

Health professionals at Community Health Centers see the effects of poor oral health every day.  Nearly 10% of Michigan third grade children have immediate dental care needs with signs or symptoms of pain, infection, or swelling, and one in four children in this age group experience untreated dental decay.  These statistics underscore how critical it is that parents and their children understand the impact of oral health on overall health and take steps to prevent dental disease.

Oral pain can impact a child’s learning, nutrition, and sleeping.  National data indicates acute dental pain accounts for the loss of 1.6 million school days for U.S. children per year, or more than three days for every 100 students.  The loss of primary (baby) teeth to decay can impact the positioning of the permanent teeth, thus leading to substantial future dental impairments.  Dental pain and early tooth loss can interfere with speech and eating.  It can also cause a child to have difficulty paying attention in school and lead to poor self-esteem.  Severe oral infection can be extremely toxic and poison the bloodstream, causing fever, serious illness, and even death.  What’s more, poor oral health has been associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, pregnancy complications, and other conditions.  Prevention is the ultimate solution.

To promote prevention, thousands of health care organizations across the United States, including Community Health Centers such as the Center for Family Health in Jackson, Michigan, participated in Give Kids a Smile Day on February 5.  During this eighth annual health outreach event, dental professionals provided free dental services to low-income and uninsured children, and helped raise awareness of the number of children with unmet dental needs and the need for policymakers to respond with more comprehensive dental-access programs.

On an ongoing basis, the Center for Family Health operates a mobile dentist program and provides dental care at Northeast Health Center where a full-time hygienist and dentist see 50 to 60 patients a week. 

Sterling Area Health Center in Sterling, Michigan, participates in Children’s Dental Health Month every year by visiting classrooms in schools in its tri-county area. 

“This year we will reach out to approximately 400 children ranging from the ages of Headstart, preschool, and up to third grade,” said Pam Heinrich, RDH, Sterling Area Health Center.  The presentations involve everything from hands-on oral hygiene instruction, diet and dental health, video presentations, handouts for the students and the parents.  The students also receive a dental kit which includes a toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, stickers, and pencils. 

“We feel very fortunate that we are able to offer this service in an area which is quite underserved.  The schools are very receptive to our visits.  Our school presentations started this week and will conclude in March,” said Heinrich.

For more information about the comprehensive, affordable, quality health care that Community Health Centers provide, please go to http://www.mpca.net.

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