April 30, 2004

Healthy smiles for our children

By Karla Rodas

Healthy, childhood smiles are being wiped away everyday. Dental decay is one of the most common chronic infectious diseases among U.S. children.

The lack of health insurance is preventing families from needed dental care. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s report on Health Insurance Coverage, in 2001, one in four Hispanic children were uninsured.

“More than 108 million Americans do not have dental insurance. For every child without medical insurance, there are 2.6 without dental insurance” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cavities and gum disease can be prevented but only with regular visits to the dentist. A child should see a dentist each year from the time that they are between 1 and 3 years old, recommends Children’s Hospital, San Diego.

Dental health problems begin early and care should also. Among children 2 to 4 years old, 17 percent have already had decay.

By the age of 8, more than half of children have experienced decay, and by the late teens, almost 80 percent will be affected.

Children that do not receive dental care are more at risk for dental disease that can lead to more serious health problems.

Tooth decay left untreated can cause pain, dysfunction, underweight and poor appearance. This can affect a child’s ability to attend and function in school and in social environments.

Care at home can also help prevent cavities and gum disease. Children’s Hospital, San Diego suggests the following tips:

Help your child brush teeth for at least two minutes with a soft toothbrush, twice a day and before bedtime. Help your child floss between teeth once a day.

Take your child to the dentist for their yearly visit. The dentist can check for cavities and apply sealants and fluoride treatments.

It’s best to speak to a dentist about fluoride supplements. A pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste can be used for children over 5 years old.

Sealants, plastic coatings put on the back teeth, protect against cavities and can be applied to children between the ages of 7 and 13.

On May 8, the Southwestern College Dental Hygiene Clinic will have free dental sealants for children 6 to 18 years old. The event will be from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Higher Education Center located at 701 National City Blvd. Walk-ins will be taken but appointments are recommended. Call (619) 692-8858.

For further information about free dental hygiene services offered you can call (619) 477-9683, Ext. 3010.

Healthy Families is low cost insurance for children and teens. It provides health, dental and vision coverage to children who do not have insurance and do not qualify for free Medi-Cal. Call 1(800)880-5305 or go to www.healthy families.ca.gov to find out if you qualify.

Karla Rodas is an intern with the UCSD San Diego EXPORT Center and is a journalism student at San Diego State University.

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