Approximately 300 children in Catawba County will receive free restorative and preventive dental health services this February, in honor of Children’s Dental Health Month.
Through the national Give Kids a Smile program, Catawba County Public Health Dental Practice is joining 23 dentists across the county to offer an estimated $100,000 worth of free dental care. The program is organized by the American Dental Association.
“Dental disease is the number one (chronic) disease for children in the U.S,” said Dr. Patrick Maddy, dentist at Catawba County Public Health.
“It’s preventable,” he added, explaining that preventing dental disease is central to Catawba County Public Health’s mission.
The 300 children have already been selected for the program, based on education and screenings provided to more than 2,000 children in Catawba County by Cindy Sigmon, Public Health Dental Hygienist for the North Carolina Oral Health Section serving Catawba County.
The children were selected based on need – those not receiving regular dental care, and those with a majority of permanent, “six-year” molars fully erupted and in need of sealants.
However, the Give Kids a Smile campaign reaches out not only to provide sealants to those children, but to educate families across the county, said Kelly Schermerhorn, public information officer at Catawba County Public Health.
“Our goal is also to raise awareness about the importance of children’s dental health,” said Schermerhorn.
In North Carolina, 44.4 percent of children ages 1-5 with Medicaid did not receive any dental care within the past 12 months, according to the North Carolina Oral Health Section. As one option for dental services, Catawba County Public Health Dental Practice welcomes children ages 1-21 with Medicaid or HealthChoice insurance.
Maddy said lack of information was the biggest barrier to children’s dental health. He pointed to the many facets of dental health – from diet to brushing and flossing habits, when to wean children off a bottle and caution with sippy cups and sugary drinks.
“Education is actually getting parents into the dentist’s office early,” said Schermerhorn.
Many parents, she said, do not know that the ADA recommends visiting dentist before children’s first birthday, and that parents can help children brush as soon as teeth emerge. Dentists’ offices can provide health tips and even tools like a terrycloth towel to help clean children’s teeth.
The Give Kids a Smile program, along with other educational efforts, can make a significant impact, according to Maddy.
“Some of those that come in for the screenings, then after the sealants – they will make appointments to come in for comprehensive care,” said Maddy.
He recalled huge improvements within families, as parents and guardians learn how to better care for their children.
“We might see a child that every single tooth out of that 20 (that children have) has decayed … And the child might be 4 years old,” said Maddy.
But then, he said, once parents make that initial contact with a dentist and learn how to prevent tooth decay, their next children will have a full mouth of healthy teeth.
The American Dental Association began the Give Kids A Smile program in 2003, for ADA members to join with their community to provide dental services to underserved children. Catawba County Public Health has provided similar services for 15 years, before the national program began, according to Schermerhorn.
In addition to Maddy and staff, other participating dentists include: Dr. Tom Carnaggio, Dr. George Clay, Dr. Ashley Collins, Dr. Michael Cordora, Dr. Lena Eldridge, Dr. David Gaddis, Dr. Bryan Graham, Dr. Coke Gunter, Dr. Delores Hammer, Dr. Darryl Hatchett, Dr. Mark Helton, Dr. Kristin Herring, Dr. Gary Jones, Dr. Kimberly Jones, Dr. Ron Key, Dr. William Litaker, Dr. John McAllister, Dr. Ross Penland, Dr. Jason Sain, Dr. James Scheller, Dr. Ryan Sigmon, Dr. Jerry Sowers Jr., and Dr. Richard Troutman.
The cooperation and participation among dentists is crucial for the Give Kids a Smile program, Schermerhorn explained.
“Without them, none of this would have been possible,” said Schermerhorn.
Julia Sendor is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Julia? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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