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Good oral health important to everyone, especially kids

My daughter’s proud, beautiful smile yesterday brought a wave of relief. She had just returned from the dentist, who had given the ‘thumbs up.’ No cavities. Great job brushing. Between braces, wisdom teeth extractions and regular cleanings, we have invested heavily in her mouth.

Good oral health is important for everyone, particularly the youngest members of our community. During these years, oral disease may unnecessarily affect a child’s performance in school, speech development, nutrition, self-esteem and sleep.

Dental disease is the leading chronic disease among Colorado’s children, five times more prevalent than asthma. Large health disparities continue to exist in oral health. In some low- income and minority populations, as many as 80 to 90 percent of children have cavities during early childhood.

Improving the oral health for our state’s children is one of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s 10 Winnable Battles in public health. This war is waged on three major fronts: 1) Public-health strategies, 2) Access to oral health care, and 3) Educate children and families.

Public-health strategies benefit the population as a whole. For dental public health, the most effective strategies are community water fluoridation and school-based sealant programs. When applied properly, sealants prevent decay on a tooth’s chewing surface. Providing dental sealants in a school setting is especially effective for at-risk children.

For more than 10 years, San Juan Basin Health’s Southwest Smile Makers dental program has provided sealants as well as free screenings and fluoride varnish at elementary schools and Head Start programs in La Plata, Archuleta and San Juan counties. The program has begun expanding into middle and high schools as well. While fulfilling one of the main public-health strategies, these efforts have also greatly increased access to oral-health care in our community. Additionally, Southwest Smile Makers provides comprehensive dental care for children on a sliding-fee scale and for patients insured with Medicaid and CHP+. While the number of children eligible for publicly funded programs has increased, the number of dental providers willing to serve these children remains extremely low.

While certainly important, simply providing treatment is just one element in a multifaceted approach in reducing oral disease. Education and prevention are also key elements. A statewide initiative provides free training and offers resources to health-care providers to assist them in improving their outreach, education and service delivery to families with the goal of preventing oral disease early in life.

Last May, San Juan Basin Health, working with the Southwestern Colorado Area Health Education Center, received funding to bring this initiative to local dentists, health-care providers and social-service agencies, involving them in the effort to get every child Cavity Free at Three. For more information, visit cavityfreeatthree.org.

All young people should have an opportunity for a big, healthy smile. Every parent should be able to enjoy that smile along with the satisfaction that their kids are doing their part by brushing and flossing while having access to the quality dental care they deserve. Good oral health care for Colorado’s children is a solid investment for everyone.

You can reach Southwest Smile Makers at 385-4480.

Jane Looney is the communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.

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