Dental decay is the most common chronic disease affecting children. It affects speech, learning, nutrition and self-esteem. Dental care for young children is very important, as an estimated 30 percent of all school aged children have multiple decayed teeth. Poor diet, lack of oral hygiene and limited access to dental care contribute to this problem.
Providing dental care for the economically challenged of Missouri is especially difficult. Many families exist at or slightly below the 100 percent federal poverty income level. Those children can qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program at school but may not qualify for Missouri Medicaid, including dental care. Also, once a person turns 21, they typically lose eligibility for dental care under Medicaid.
Safety net clinics such as those at Truman Medical Center Lakewood attempt to address these gaps in dental care coverage. TMC has also developed a mobile dental clinic to actually provide on-site dental care at certain area schools.
The American Dental Association designated February as National Children’s Dental Health Month. Dentists all over the nation join in activities to promote Children’s Dental Health Month. One program is “Give a Kid a Smile.” You may have seen something on the nightly news about dentists treating needy children for a day at no charge. The Greater Kansas City Dental Society provides this service at the UMKC School of Dentistry. At this one-day event in 2013, dental society members provided over $38, 000 worth of dental care for 128 children. Nationally over 400,000 children were seen at over 1700 events in February of 2013.
Another program, “Into the Mouths of Babes,” is an effort to educate and collaborate with Pediatricians and Family Medicine Physicians to understand the importance of early dental examinations and early preventive dental care. Current recommendations include dental examinations for children as young as a year and a half.
Fluoride supplements may also be recommended if you live in an area with non- fluoridated water. These efforts help reduce the number of children with Early Childhood Decay Syndrome, where children under the age of 5 have five or more decayed teeth. So ask your children’s physician about the need for dental care.
Finally, the Missouri Dental Association provides an annual opportunity for children and the rest of the family to have access to free dental services. It is called Missouri Mission of Mercy. The location moves around the state. We had one here in Kansas City four years ago. The last one was held in 2013 in Cape Girardeau where they saw 1,777 patients and provided an estimated $960,000 worth of dental care. All of these programs bring into focus the extreme need for dental services in our state and community.
John Dane is the Dental Director for Truman Medical Center Lakewood. Dane also serves as a member of the Health Education Advisory Board for the City of Lees Summit.