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Celebrate Children's Dental Health Awareness Month: Save Your Kid's Smile, Don't Neglect Oral Health

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Don't neglect your child's dental health. That's the message this February, which is also Children's Dental Health Awareness Month.

In the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by Cook Children's, oral health continues to be one of the issues affecting the children living in the eight-county service area (Collin, Denton, Grayson, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise).

According to parents and caregivers in the 8-county service area:

• 1 in 4 children (an estimated total of 313,000 children ages 1-17) do not have excellent/very good dental health.

• 1 in 7 children (an estimated 175,000 children ages 1-17) experienced dental problems, such as toothache, bleeding gums, decayed teeth, or cavities over the past year.

• 1 in 7 children (an estimated total of 175,000 children ages 1-17) did not receive all needed dental care in the past year – primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, inadequate insurance, cost, or available dentists who accept Medicaid. This rate is higher than national and state estimates prior to the pandemic.

• 7% of school-aged children (an estimated 55,000 children ages 6-17) missed school because of dental problems in the past year.

Child oral health is achieved through proper preventive care and prompt treatment for dental problems. Children with untreated dental problems may have difficulty with pain, eating, self-esteem, or school performance. In more severe cases, children need emergency care, hospitalization, or surgical procedures. Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases of children in the United States and Texas.

Factors that support oral health include:

• Equitable access to preventive dental care and prompt treatment.

• Awareness of preventive dental care and importance to overall well-being.

• Case management and support from Community Health Workers to help children receive needed dental care and services.

To help curb the problem, in 2003 Cook Children's created the Save a Smile initiative. The program's director, Dr. Tonya Fuqua, said it's her mission to make sure families don't forget how important dental health is for overall health.

"If a kid cannot function, they cannot eat and get their nutrition," she explained. "If they're in pain they're not able to learn and stay in school and be healthy."

We spoke with Dr. Fuqua during a recent event at Tarrant County Community College, where the dental school students gave out free teeth cleanings to children who may not otherwise be seen.

"I appreciate their help," said Jamila Malik, whose daughter Eshaal was one of the students getting a cleaning. "Being a single parent, it's really hard for me to do the coverage on each individual because I have three children."

Save a Smile is in 21 pre-selected local elementary schools. The students are given a dental screening to identify who's most in need. For those without insurance, they're set up with a volunteer provider who will treat them free of charge.

To learn more about Save a Smile, or to reach out with questions about the program, check out their website.



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