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Give Kids a (Free) Smile Day! February 2


February is National Children's Dental Health Month (NCDHM) sponsored by the American Dental Association (ADA). Today, Give Kids a Smile Day, this organization's fifth annual event, more than 14,000 dentists and 37,000 dental team members will provide free dental care valued at more than $72 million to some 750,000 needy children across the nation. Free oral health education, screening and treatment services will be provided to children from low-income families and companies like Colgate-Palmolive and DEXIS Digital X-ray Systems are donating supplies and services. Former Surgeon-General David Satcher named several conditions "the silent epidemic", but he was the first person in that office to call attention to the problem of oral health in our nation, and called attention to the disparities between rich and poor.

The subjects of dental care and kids are especially near and dear to me this month as I fork over lots of money to pay for braces for my teenage daughter. Our saga began when she was 9 and our family dentist, a nice guy and competent clinician, referred us to an orthodontist in our smallish (pop. 75,000) town for braces. Dr. O. had a big smile and big voice in a big, open office. Several people were being treated simultaneously and drills and water piks were whirring furiously as he talked on and on about his neighbor who bought the house adjacent to his to accommodate his wine cellar. Why he thought this would interest me, I have no idea. Most people in the Bay area can't even think about owning one home, let alone two. An extra house to accommodate a wine cellar seemed a tad extravagant for us mortal health care worker types. He smilingly told us that braces would be required within a few months, despite the fact that my daughter was still shedding baby teeth and her permanent teeth had not come in yet. My daughter hated the doctor, and I was suspicious of the urgency of the plan. Research on the Healthline website indicates controversy over the timing of initiating full orthodontia. We opted to wait.

My employers here at Healthline put together a great benefits package for employees (we're hiring!), and I am fortunate to have good dental insurance. I sought out a well known orthodontist in a bigger city who confirmed that braces were needed and showed me the X-rays to prove it. X-rays don't lie and it was clear to me that teeth needed to be extracted first. I signed a contract to pay for close to $6,000 worth of mouth mental, and learned our insurance would cover $1,000 of that. I requested a referral to an oral surgeon in the same building and was referred to Dr. P. I consulted the website for our insurance and confirmed that Dr. P. was in our network. Dr. P. had excellent patient communication skills (what used to be called "bedside manners") and discussed our options. We all decided it would be best to take out four teeth at once, get it over with, and then move on to braces. We scheduled the appointment and a week off from school and work so that I could be with her while she recuperated. Dr. P's bill was $2650, of which our insurance paid $2,000. Total cost of a healthy smile = let's round it off to $10,000 when you consider transportation, time off, and oh, the parking ticket I got for allegedly not "chocking my wheel" on a hill with a 15 degree slope. (You know I'm contesting that one!). And I'm one of the lucky ones.

The ADA recommends that children see a dentist no later than their first birthday. Roughly 60% of children have seen a dentist before kindergarten. By then, more than half of first graders have tooth decay, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Left untreated, dental disease makes it difficult for children to eat, sleep and pay attention in school, and it negatively affects their self-esteem. Congratulations to the ADA for drawing attention to this important issue. The ADA has a proud tradition of advocating international volunteerism, sponsoring dental care in impoverished countries like Nepal and Haiti. Thank you to everyone involved for such a great program!

Photo courtesy of Gregor Rohrig .
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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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