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Dental Health Care Options for Children at Risk

Every child should have a healthy mouth and beautiful smile. However, because many children, teenagers, and even infants do not have sufficient access to affordable dental health care, they are at high risk for tooth decay. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, 25 percent of the children in the U.S. have 80 percent of the decay. Who are these children, and what is being done to give them an opportunity for a cavity free mouth like so many others?  Find options on how parents can get their kids free or low cost dental exams, cleanings and other care.

Who Are the Children at Risk of Tooth Decay?

There are many reasons why a child is at risk for dental problems. Children of recent immigrants do not have access to dental care, and impoverished families cannot afford care. Millions of Americans are uninsured, and even more lack dental insurance. Additionally, oral health problems are much more common in children with developmental disabilities than in children without disabilities.

Children with cerebral palsy, for example, are more likely to have missing teeth than children without the condition.  Besides physical disabilities, children with hearing and vision loss and emotional or behavioral issues are at risk for serious dental problems. Home care is challenging for disabled children, and parents have difficulty finding dentists who will treat their children because they often need hospitalization or sedation for their dental needs. It can also be challenging for single mothers or fathers to not only afford proper cleanings for their kids, but it is difficult for them to get time of work or during their days to take their children.

Solutions for Access to Dental Care for Kids

The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid are government programs available for low income families at either no cost or low cost for coverage. Benefits may vary from state to state, and parents are required to take their children to dentists who participate with the program. Both of these are a form of dental insurance that are for low to moderate income households or those living in poverty. This means there are income requirements. Find other sources of free government health and dental insurance plans.




Public health clinics in many communities provide free dental services or care on a sliding fee scale. Many have volunteer dentists and hygienists that work on site on occasion. While they help children, teens, infants and others, even adults can often get assistance. Find free dental clinics near you.

In addition, families that live near dental schools can take advantage of pediatric residency programs that offer either free or reduce cost treatment. Students of the college give them exam/cleanings, but they are supervised. More details on dental schools for free cleanings.

The American Dental Association sponsors a program called Give Kids A Smile. During this annual one-day event in February, local volunteer dentists and staff provide dental health education, free screenings, and dental treatment to under-served children. There may cleanings, basic surgery and other assistance for kids. Read more.

If a parent is low income and needs financial help to pay for existing (or future) dental bills for their kids, there are assistance programs for that as well. Some government grant programs as well as non-profits may assist, including in an emergency. Find dental bill financial assistance programs.

Many states have instituted oral health assessment programs within public schools to identify children with dental needs. They are often part of state health and dental care programs for the uninsured. Also, some school programs offer dental health education and preventive treatments, such as sealants and fluoride varnishes, to school children.

While tooth decay is the most widespread chronic disease in children, it is preventable.  Today, doctors, dentists and pediatricians are educating new parents on the importance of preventive oral health routines with their newborns.  Doctors are also undertaking oral health screenings and applying fluoride varnishes to children that may not have access to dental care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits community water fluoridation as a major factor in the decline of tooth decay. Studies show that fluoridated water can reduce decay by 10 to 40 percent, but 30 percent of the communities in the U.S. do not have fluoride in their water supplies. The risk for children in these communities rises if they are not receiving supplemental fluoride or using fluoride toothpaste.





Consequences from Lack of Dental Health Care

Poor dental health can translate into poor general health for many children. Rampant dental decay can lead to nutritional deficiencies and cause a child to be severely underweight. Children in chronic pain from dental problems have trouble concentrating in school and generally have more attendance problems which can damage school performance. Speech and self-esteem are also affected, and when a child struggles with self-confidence, making friends and participating in social activities is particularly hard for them.

Children should not have to suffer the consequences of tooth decay. Parents, healthcare professionals, and community members have a responsibility to keep children pain-free and cavity-free. This is an achievable goal, and the reward is lots of children with healthy teeth and confident smiles.

By Jon McNamara

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