Close to a million "Ahhs" will be heard on February 21 as children
open wide for the largest dental check up in the country.* On "Give Kids A Smile/National Children's Dental Access Day," dentists at more than 5,000 sites will participate in events big and small to provide free services to children from low-income families.
Events range from large-scale dental clinics providing free fillings,
cleanings and fluoride treatments, to groups of dentists providing care to underserved children in their private practices, to individual dentists giving education and screening programs in a variety of locations.
The American Dental Association created "Give Kids A Smile" to focus national attention on the issue of access to oral health care for underserved children. Along with its national partners, Crest Healthy Smiles 2010, Sullivan-Schein Dental, DEXIS Digital X-ray Systems and Ivoclar Vivadent Inc.,, the ADA hopes to build support for public and private solutions that will help underserved children get regular oral health care.
As noted in the Surgeon General's 2000 report, Oral Health in America, dental decay is the most common disease affecting U.S. children, occurring at five times the rate of asthma and seven times that of hay fever. Millions of children suffer from untreated, easily preventable oral diseases that affect overall health, including speech, eating patterns and ability to concentrate in school.
Approximately 23 million children in the United States do not have dental insurance. Medicaid and state programs for the working poor are supposed to help underserved children, yet only one of four children enrolled in Medicaid sees a dentist in the average year.
Although Medicaid provides the health coverage for about one-fourth of all children in the United States, most state Medicaid budgets devote 2 percent or less to dental services for young and old alike. In some states, the dental portion of the Medicaid budget is as little as 0.5 percent.
Under-funding of government programs, along with bureaucratic red tape, often causes dentists to bypass the system and do as much as they can for underserved children on their own.
A recent survey by the American Dental Association shows that 75 percent of its member dentists provide charitable care to some patients. In fact, dentists provided far more non-reimbursed, charitable care in 1996 than care paid through public funding, such as Medicaid or other government programs, according to a comparison of data by the 1987 National Medical Expenditure
Survey and the 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel.
"Dentists want to be part of the solution, but we can't solve the problem of access to oral health care by ourselves," states T. Howard Jones, D.M.D., president of the American Dental Association. "Give Kids A Smile brings a lot of resources to the table, but it isn't a cure-all. It's a wake-up call. I invite policy makers across the country to attend a "Give Kids A Smile"
event taking place in their state and see first hand the ongoing challenges underserved children face in accessing dental care. Only by working together can we hope to truly address the issue of access to care. "
*Editor's Note: Due to the need for signed parental permission and other documentation, most Give Kids a Smile events can only see children who are registered in advance, in most cases through schools and social service clubs and agencies. Please do not indicate to the public that the event is open to unregistered children.