by Delaney Gracy, MD, MPH, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Children's Health Fund
Today, as part of National Childhood Dental Awareness month, the American Dental Association (ADA) celebrates “Give Kids A Smile” Day. This year, over 12,000 dentists have signed up to participate in the program and provide free oral health care to kids from low-income families across the country. In addition, dental-health focused events across the country will help to shine the light on the many barriers facing low-income families who are trying to access dental care for their kids.
At Children's Health Fund (CHF), we know all too well how difficult it is for children living in poverty to access dental care. Kids living in poverty have twice the odds of having tooth decay, twice the extent of the decay, twice the unmet treatment need, twice the pain experience, but half the access to dental care than their more affluent peers. A variety of variables adds to this lack of access:
Medicaid’s low reimbursement rate discourages many dentists from participating;
Many children in rural communities face transportation barriers in accessing dental care; and
In designated dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, too few dentists are available to meet the needs of the community.
At CHF, addressing these low rates of dental care is always a priority. Our National Network programs in Arkansas, Dallas, Idaho, New York City (including Harlem) and Washington, D.C., provide free, comprehensive oral health care – screening, dental exams, digital x-rays, oral health education and dental procedures – to low-income children. Eight of our programs offer fluoride varnishes in the primary care setting, and throughout the National Network primary care providers conduct oral health screenings and provide referrals to collaborating community dentists.
Today in Idaho, our Idaho Children’s Health Project (ICHP) is participating in the ADA’s “Give Kids A Smile” day! Dentists will be providing exams, sealants, and fluoride varnishes for 2nd and 3rd graders at Bickel Elementary in Twin Falls and hope to see about 110 kids throughout the day (they will definitely be keeping busy!) The ICHP is working in collaboration with the Caring Foundation for Children, who will help with paperwork, the College of Southern Idaho, who will bring volunteer dental assistant students, and Delta Dental, who is supplying tooth brush kits for the kids!
We are thrilled to join the ADA’s commitment to helping provide dental care to low-income kids and bring awareness to the many access barriers facing the kids in these communities. Today and everyday we all need to do what we can to ensure all kids have something to smile about!