Sharing smiles: Working to improve oral health

Community workers at the Sharing Smiles Roundtable learn about improving oral health. Lisa Owad/Medill

By Lisa Owad
Jan. 28, 2010
Medill News Service

Children are more likely to have tooth decay than they are to have any chronic infectious disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yet, children are nearly 3 times more likely to lack dental insurance than health insurance, according to the CDC. Those who live in poverty, both children and adults, suffer more than twice the amount of tooth decay, also known as dental caries.

“Oral health care is one of the biggest challenges in public health that exist today,” said Dr. Lee Francis, president and CEO of Erie Family Health Center in Chicago. On average, children who visit the Erie Family Dental clinic have five to six cavities.

A week before the start of February’s National Children’s Dental Health Month, the Sharing Smiles Roundtable, a seminar held by Erie Family Health Center, met in Humboldt Park. Members of community organizations like Advocate Health Care, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and Community Health gathered to discuss oral health care in Chicago.

Children with oral health problems have trouble focusing in school and can face harsh ridicule from their peers. The CDC estimates that children miss more than 51 million hours of school each year from dental-related illnesses.

“There is no cure for dental caries,” said Dr. Ghassan Souri, the vice president of oral health services at Erie Family Health Care at the Roundtable. “But it is 100 percent preventable.”

The roundtable participants were instructed in good dental hygiene, as well as given strategies for finding affordable dental care.

“I have dental insurance, but it doesn’t cover enough. I end up spending too much money, so I still avoid going to the dentist,” said Janece Simmons, a roundtable participant from the West Humboldt Park Development Council.

Oral health can also affect a person’s overall health. Diabetes, heart disease and low infant birth weight have all been linked to poor oral health. “When we work on someone’s mouth, we make the rest of them healthy,” Dr. Francis said.

Related Links:
Find a free or sliding scale dental clinic in Chicago
Information about Erie Family Dental Clinics

CDC Tips for Improving Oral Health in Children:
What Can Parents and Caregivers Do?

• Pregnant women should get prenatal care and eat a healthy diet that includes folic acid to prevent neural tube defects and possibly cleft lip/palate. During pregnancy avoid tobacco and alcohol, and check with a doctor before taking any medications.

• Put only water in your baby’s bottle at bedtime or naptime. Milk, formula, juices, and other drinks contain sugar. Prolonged exposure to sugary drinks while baby sleeps – when saliva flow is reduced – increases the risk of tooth decay.

• Take your child for an oral health assessment between ages 1-2, and every six months thereafter.

• Protect your child’s teeth with fluoride. Use a fluoridated toothpaste, putting only a pea-sized amount on your child’s toothbrush. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, talk to a dentist or physician about the best way to protect your child’s teeth.

• Encourage your children to eat regular nutritious meals and to avoid frequent between-meal snacking.

• Talk to your child’s dentist about dental sealants, which protect teeth from decay.

• Make sure your child wears a helmet when bicycling and uses protective headgear and mouth guards in other sports activities.

*Suggestions provided by the Centers for Disease Control

See this article at the Medill News Service

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