As part of the American Dental Association's Give Kids a Smile program, thousands of dentists and their teams around the United States will provide free oral health services to underserved areas and children frmo low-income families.
With all the talk about health insurance reform still in the news, it's surprising that dental insurance has been so rarely mentioned. All over the United States, many more children go without dental insurance than health insurance, which means that a simple procedure to fix a tooth ache is either unattainable or costs parents a substantial amount of their wages. Without dental insurance, thousands of children do not receive routine dental care and teeth cleanings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 22 percent of children aged 2 to 17 years did not have a dental visit in 2009. What's more, about 16 percent of children aged 6 to 19 years had untreated dental caries, a chronic disease that can lead to pain and infection and tooth loss.
Studies have shown large disparities in access to dental care. Children from rural areas are less likely to be insured compared to their urban counterparts. Similarly, foreign-born Hispanic children are less likely than US-born white children to be insured.
Additionally, poor and minority children are less likely to receive preventive dental care. At first, that may not come as a surprise. However, even when insurance status was taken into account, poor and minority children were still less likely to make routine visits to the dentist.
These disparities - as well as the importance of oral care to overall health - are why the American Dental Association sponsors the Give Kids a Smile program every year on the first Friday of February. By providing oral care for underserved children, the program intends to highlight for policy makers the difficulties that low-income families face when trying to maintain a healthy mouth.
In a letter to the editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Dr. Richard Wiberg, president of the Minnesota Dental Association, speaks to the need for improving dental care for children. Dr. Wiberg writes, "While dentistry is only five percent of the health care dollar, dental care is critical. Research shows that tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, affecting 50 percent of US first graders. He continues, "Nationally, more than one-half of children ages 6 to 8 have tooth decay, and one-third of it goes untreated. We can do better than that."
Also in the letter, Dr. Wiberg writes of the successes of the Give Kids a Smile program. He notes, however, that "volunteerism and charity alone will not solve these problems."
In the same spirit exhibited by Dr. Wigerg, other dentists and stakeholders are encouraged to bring awareness to Give Kids A Smile Day, and to the disparities regarding access to dental care. The more people who know about this important and inspiring program, the more children will be helped.
Join the effort to improve the health of underprivileged children in the United States. Tell your friends and family to spread the word.
As Dr. Wiberg so aptly concludes his letter, maybe one day soon we can have "not just a program called 'Give Kids A Smile,' but a solution which would give ALL kds a smile."