Dental Care, Resources, and Education for Underprivileged Children Written By Abagaile gehrke

A happy kid starts with a healthy smile

The Problem

Millions of children in the U.S. go without dental care every year. The main reason being that they cannot afford it. These children don't get routine exams, or any other needed dental care. In many cases they also don't have the needed supplies (i.e. toothpaste and toothbrushes) to take care of their teeth at home, or they haven't been educated properly on how to do it. This leads to untreated dental problems like tooth decay (cavities), gum disease, tooth fractures, etc. Sometimes, people who go untreated by a dentist end up going to the ER when the problem becomes more serious.

"More than 18 million low-income children went without dental care, including routine exams, in 2014."

Why Is Dental Care Important?

As soon as babies' teeth start coming in, parents should start taking their children to the dentists. Going to the dentist for regular exams will make sure that your children's teeth are healthy. Dentists also treat cavities, do sealants, educate the child on how to brush their teeth, and much more. Getting cavities and other dental problems treated as early as possible is very important. Even though they're baby teeth, if they get damaged, they can later affect permanent teeth negatively. So taking care of children's teeth starting at a young age is very important. But it's not just the dentist's job. At home parents should brush their children's teeth and teach them how to do it themselves when they're old enough. Doing this will teach them the importance of oral hygiene and will install in them a regular routine for brushing their teeth. This is essential for long term good oral health. Poor oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, decay, and tooth loss, among other things. Also, inflammation in the mouth due to gum disease can lead to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's, diabetes, and heart disease.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 20% of kids between the ages of two and 19 have cavities that have not been treated."

Current Work Being Done

To help with this problem there are things like Medicaid, free or low-cost dental care organizations, and free education programs. One provision for low-income students that is effective is school based sealant programs. These are programs that provide sealants for students at their school for a reduced price. This is very effective at reaching low-income students who might otherwise not be getting any dental treatment. These programs work by targeting school with a higher percentage of low-income students, so they reach those that need them the most.

"School-age children without sealants have almost 3 times more cavities than those with sealants."

Organizations that provide free or reduced price dental care are also very helpful. One such organization is Sarrell Dental. This non-profit organization provides low-cost dental care for low-income families with Medicaid and CHIP. It is founded in Anniston, Alabama, but has since opened offices in 17 other cities. Sarrell also has a "Dental Bus" which travels to daycares and schools throughout the state providing dental care. To learn more about them, visit their website, Another great organization is Care Harbor. They provide free health care to the uninsured, underinsured, and at risk. They provide medical, visual, and dental care for anyone who needs it. To learn more about them, visit One more organization is Children's Healthy Smile Project. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to improving children's dental health. They provide children with "smile kits", which contain a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a kids educational booklet on how to brush their teeth. They also provide dental booklets to parents so they can learn how to care for their children's teeth. Along with providing resources, they also visit headstarts to teach children about dental health, and to get them more interested in it.

Children at headstart are educated on how to brush their teeth.

Another resource is Medicaid, which provides health coverage to low-income people. Medicaid covers the cost of checkups and cleanings, filling cavities, tooth restoration for damaged teeth, and braces in certain situations, along with other health care fields. Currently, 69 million people are covered by Medicaid. It is funded by states and the federal government together.

Barriers to Progress

Despite medicaid and other organizations, there is still a large disparity in dental care for low-income children. Even though they may be covered by Medicaid, most dental clinics will not care for them because it is expensive. The state and government do not reimburse them enough, so they can't afford to take patients with Medicaid. Another barrier is awareness of the options for low-income children. Even if there are options, many people do not know about them, and therefore go without any type of dental care.

"Only 32% of dentists in private practices have treated people with public assistance."

Solutions and What You Can Do

There are a many things that can be done to help with this problem. The first is to open more dental health clinics that take patients with Medicaid, or for the state and government to give them more reimbursement for Medicaid patients so that they can afford it. Another solution is to start a program in high schools where the students go to middle school and elementary school and educate the children on dental care, and also the options that low-income students have for getting care. This will not only help with educating children on how to take care of their teeth, but will also inform them of the options they have for getting low-cost dental care. More schools should also get sealant programs, which will provide care for many children who need it. What can you do to help? Aside from donating money to and volunteering for non-profit organizations, you can start a campaign to raise money and awareness for the non-profit organizations, for the school based sealant programs, or to help start an education program. You can also initiate the education program or reach out to ones who can. Whatever you do, you will be helping underprivileged children get the dental care, resources, and education that they need.


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Abagaile Gehrke


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