February 12, 1999

San Ysidro Health Center Dental Professionals Provide School Screenings

Tooth decay is the most common preventable disease for children in the United States. However, many individuals suffer needlessly from the effects of tooth decay. Studies indicate that 75 percent of all dental cavities are found in 25 percent of school age children. These are often the same children who have little access to dental care. Particularly hard hit are ethnic minorities and people of minimal economic means, especially those without dental insurance.

During the month of February, the 50th anniversary of National Children's Dental Health Month, dentists and dental assistants from San Ysidro Health Center (SYHC) will perform dental screenings at several local schools. The dental health professionals will also distribute information regarding preventive dental care and refer children who need dental care to appropriate community services.

School dental screenings for children in first through third grades will be conducted on Friday, Feb. 19 at Sunset Elementary. Students without cavities will be referred to a dental sealant clinic at SYHC on Saturday, Feb. 27, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Regular dental check ups for all children are important in order to prevent and control dental disease. Since tooth decay may begin as soon as a child has teeth, professional dental organizations recommend that children should have their first dental examination as early as their first birthday. Subsequent dental examinations are recommended every six months.

"Unfortunately, many children receive no professional dental care during their formative years, which can result in severe untreated dental disease and early tooth loss," said Guillermo Shiro-ma, D.D.S. "Baby teeth are important space holders for the proper positioning of the permanent teeth."

Fluoride can be one of the most effective agents for preventing tooth decay. When the correct amount is in community water supplies, fluoride is the single-most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay and improve oral health for a lifetime, Dr. Shiroma explained. According to American Dental Association statistics, children who from birth drink water containing fluoride on average have up to 50 percent fewer cavities. However, fluoridated water alone is not enough to prevent dental disease.

"Parents can help prevent dental cavities by making sure their children brush their teeth twice a day and floss daily," he said. "Parents should supervise their young children's brushing to be sure they don't swallow the toothpaste and children under 6 years old should use only a pea-size dab of toothpaste."

Dr. Shiroma also recommends using dental sealants to help prevent tooth decay. "Sealants are a clear material applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to help seal out tooth decay throughout childhood," he said. "There are many people who have had sealants who have never had a cavity in those teeth."

Dr. Shiroma outlined the following steps for improved dental health:

* Children should know that the dentist is a friendly doctor who will help them take care of their teeth.

* Be positive and try to make dental visits an enjoyable experience for your child.

* Set a good example by brushing your own teeth twice a day, using floss or an interdental cleaner between your teeth once a day.

* Visit your dentist regularly.

"Attitudes and habits established at an early age are critical to help your child maintain good oral health throughout life," said Dr. Shiroma.

SYHC has provided access to quality, low-cost health care services to the medically-underserved residents of San Diego's South Bay communities since 1969. The State of California's new health insurance program for uninsured children, Healthy Families, is available to SYHC patients who qualify for the program. Depending on income and family size, children can receive comprehensive health, dental and vision benefits with this program.

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