Kids Learn Good Dental Habits
Students at The Academy of Moore County know what it takes to keep a healthy smile.
A Colgate Family Dollar Bright Smiles oral care van recently visited the school as a part of the national Bright Smiles, Bright Futures dental health program.
The mobile dental office is one of eight vans traveling around the country to provide free dental screenings for children under the age of 12.
Local dentists volunteer to evaluate children’s teeth and help them receive any additional treatments they may need.
As students from Nora Andersen’s first-grade class climbed into the van, Dr. William Pete McKay III, a West End dentist, greeted them with a smile. McKay has been volunteering to do dental screenings for children with various organizations since 1986.
“It brings more public awareness about the need for dental care for kids,” he said.
Students watched educational cartoons about cleaning teeth as they waited to be screened.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Pete. How are you today?” McKay said as a child slid into one of two dental chairs.
“Fine,” the child said, smiling shyly.
McKay examined each child’s teeth, looking for signs of cavities or any abnormalities. If he did find problems, he made recommendations to volunteer dental assistants, who referred the students to local dentists.
McKay said he has seen dental health gradually improve over the last 25 years as people become more conscious about the importance of brushing and flossing.
“But we’re not there yet,” he said.
With so much discussion surrounding health care reform recently, McKay said dental health has been “severely overlooked.” He added that in tough economic times, people often put off going to the dentist because they have lost their insurance or tighter budgets can’t accommodate appointments that are often viewed as additional costs.
Margaret Hooper, Bright Smiles event coordinator, agrees.
“We have found now that so many people have lost their dental insurance and so many people have lost their jobs and a lot of people don’t qualify for Medicaid and Health Choice,” she said. “They’re the ones that fall through the cracks. So it’s different from what it was even five years ago as far as people being able to go to the dentist and take their children.”
Find ‘Dental Homes’
Some of the first-graders on the van had never seen a dentist before the screening.
McKay believes children should begin going to the dentist at a much earlier age. He often tells parents: “First year, first tooth, first visit.”
The American Dental Association recommends that parents take their children to the dentist either within the first year of life or when a child’s first tooth comes in.
Besides the fact that earlier visits give children a head start to healthy teeth, McKay added that children who begin going at a young age are less likely to be afraid of the dentist when they’re older because they get used to appointments.
Margaret Hooper also sees a lot of work to be done in her travels around the county with Bright Smiles, Bright Futures.
Schools and organizations apply to have the oral health van visit their communities for screenings.
“We go where we’re requested,” she said.
Hooper often finds that the overall dental health of an area observed in screenings depends on a community’s access to care and resources.
Before coming to The Academy of Moore, the van had been in eastern North Carolina, where Hooper said she saw a distinct difference in oral health based on which communities had fluoridated water systems.
“A lot [of the kids] have never even been to the dentist,” Hooper added.
Often in her travels, Hooper encounters dental problems that would otherwise go untreated without the screenings.
“Somebody’s going to follow through with these kids and try to see that they get dental treatment,” she said. “It’s not always guaranteed, but a lot of times we call a dentist.”
She added that the ultimate goal is to help children and their parents find “dental homes” where they can regularly receive care.
The organization also holds community events and workshops to get the word out.
“We do a lot of nutrition counseling,” Hooper said. “We do parent workshops to educate the parents as to what can be done to help their children as far as brushing, flossing and nutrition.”
Hooper said she often recommends that people try to eat less sugary foods and drink water or milk, instead of soft drinks. She also stresses that parents have to be an integral part in helping their children develop proper brushing habits along with taking them to the dentist.
“You can get the fillings done, but if the home care is not there, then you’re defeating what the dentist has done,” she said.
In the school lunchroom, students from Montgomery Community College’s dental assistant program worked with kids to help them understand the importance of all that brushing and flossing.
Children practiced brushing models of teeth and looked at examples of poor oral hygiene while waiting to go out to the van.
Student Brittany Inman agreed that parents should actively make sure that children properly clean their teeth.
“You see some that are not even having the chance to floss or brush at night,” she said. “Kids tell us how many cavities they’ve had. It’s kind-of heartbreaking.”
Logan Moore, Inman’s classmate, showed students test tubes of sugar that demonstrate how much sugar is present in a serving of everyday foods and beverages.
Moore told children that sugar and plaque sitting on teeth for extended periods causes cavities and decay, especially if they skip brushing at night.
“When you go to bed, that’s what’s lying on your teeth for eight hours,” she said.
Moore said she hopes that by teaching kids how to take care of their teeth at an early age, she and her fellow volunteers are preparing them for a lifetime of healthy smiles.
The Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Program began in 1991 to provide free dental screenings to children between ages 5 and 8, who may not have access to proper dental care.
The program has reached millions of children in the United States and around the world.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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