February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and the American Dental Association kicked off the month with its annual “Give A Kid A Smile” event.
Dental cavities and decay remains the most prevalent chronic disease in children, despite the fact that tooth decay is largely preventable. The good news is that the prevalence of cavities in kids under 18 have decreased over the past few decades, but the very bad news is that this downward trend has recently reversed for young children.
According to statistics provided by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 42% of children 2 to 11 have had dental cavities in their primary teeth and 23% of children 2 to 11 have untreated dental cavities. Children 2 to 11 have an average of 1.6 decayed primary teeth and 3.6 primary teeth with surface decay (surface decay, untreated, results in cavities).
Just over 75% of American children visited a dentist last year, according to the American Dental Association. Children in low income families are, unsurprisingly the least likely to get their recommended twice-yearly dental checkups.
The most common reason for lack of essential dental care is that families don’t have dental insurance and can’t afford dental visits. Typically, dental insurance pays for all or the majority of the cost of pediatric preventive dental care such as checkups, x-rays and cleanings. This is because preventative care has been proven to reduce the need for more extensive and expensive dental treatments later in life.
The American Dental Association works to provide more children with access to free dental care through its annual Give Kids a Smile Day. Kids 17 and under are eligible to receive free care at participating dental providers. Parents can review a list of providers in their state here, or call their state’s dental association for more information.
The Give Kids A Smile program, launched nationally by the American Dental Association in 2003, has provided more than five million children with free oral health services over the last 13 years. Free treatment is provided by approximately 10,000 dentists annually, along with 30,000 other dental team members.
In 2016, as of February 10, there were 1,255 Give a Kid A Smile events nationwide, and 7,107 dentists and 24,358 volunteers participated. 285,959 children were registered to receive care.
The American Dental Association works to help families who can’t afford dental care for their children to get affordable treatment year-round. While they cannot promise that free care will be available for all children, the Association can direct you to clinics close to your home where help may be available. In some cases, a fee for treatment may be required depending upon your ability to pay. Check their website for information on affordable treatment options near you.
If you do have dental insurance coverage under a State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid, but are having problems finding a dentist that accepts your insurance, visit the Insure Kids Now Website or call the Insure Kids Now hotline at 1.877.KIDS.NOW.
And if your family doesn’t need free dental care, you may want to make a donation to support next year’s “Give A Kid A Smile” day.