Friday, June 10, 2011

A Child's Promise: Dental problems disrupt education, life

Dental problems
LinkDental caries (tooth decay) is the number one untreated disease in children, five times more common than asthma. Each year, 52 million school hours are missed due to dental-related issues. Untreated tooth decay leads to problems with learning, sleeping, eating and growing. Nearly 80 percent of childhood tooth decay occurs in 20 percent of children. Nationwide, 30 to 50 percent of 4- and 5-year-olds in Head Start already have tooth decay. Surprisingly, the number of children getting cavities is increasing; low-income individuals are disproportionately affected by dental disease and most do not have access to dental care. Common barriers to obtaining dental services include:
1. Lack of information regarding the importance of early dental care. A child needs to see a dentist by age one, with six-month check-ups and cleanings. Instead, some parents seek dental care only when their child is in pain. At that point, several teeth may be involved and treatment is more complex.

2. Out of date contact information. Routine dental appointments are scheduled months in advance. When the family address or phone changes, parents do not receive reminder calls or letters and miss their appointments.

3. Lack of access to dental care for individuals, ages 19 to 21. Dental needs for qualifying children are covered comprehensively by MO HealthNet (Missouri Medicaid) through age 19, or age 21 for those with certain special needs. After that, everyone must carry private dental insurance or pay out of pocket. Although several safety-net dental clinics offer a discount through sliding fee programs, dental care cost is still out of reach for many in this age group. No adult dental benefits are provided unless a covered person is blind, pregnant, or in a nursing home.

Locally, several community organizations are addressing this problem. Jordan Valley Dental Clinic and Mobile Unit partners with area organizations to ensure regular dental care for children. The Tooth Truck, part of the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, visits Springfield schools to provide services to children with the greatest needs. Missouri Mission of Mercy, a program of the Missouri Dental Association and the Greater Springfield Dental Society, will host a free dental clinic in September 2011 for patients of all ages who cannot otherwise afford care.

Below are tips for parents who want to ensure better dental care for children:

1. Take your children to see a dentist by age one or soon after their first tooth erupts. Many dental issues can be resolved quickly if caught early enough. The dentist can also provide information on appropriate bottle and sippy cup use and good nutrition habits.

2. Make sure your children have regular six-month check-ups and cleanings and fluoride applications as needed.

3. Help your children brush their teeth until they can write in cursive. Until then, children do not have the small muscle control to brush as carefully as needed.

4. Provide current contact information to your dental and medical health providers.

5. Set a good example of good oral care by brushing and flossing your own teeth daily.

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