Monday, January 17, 2005

Dental Programs Aims To Help Keep Kids' Teeth Healthy

Dental Screenings To Become Mandatory

CHICAGO -- A new state law this summer will make dental screenings mandatory for children in kindergarten, second, and sixth grades.

But getting a dental checkup is next to impossible for some Chicago children. Two new programs are aiming to help close that gap, NBC5 HealthWatch reporter Nesita Kwan reported. One of those programs is at La Rabida Hospital.

"A lot of these kids with special needs have not been able to ever see a dentist," said Dr. Deval Shah. "You know, we have sometimes 10 [-year-olds], 12-year-olds coming in here that this may be their first dental visit in their life."

Vanessa has been to a dentist before, but she enjoyed watching cartoons on the ceiling while Shah checked her teeth. In addition to free check-ups, patients in the program can get fillings at no cost.

Oral health advocates said programs like the mobile dental van are critical for Chicago children, Kwan reported.

"There's a great unmet need in Chicago," said Robert Klaus of Chicago-based Oral Health America. "Last September, we did a survey of Chicago dentists. We found only a quarter of the dentists were willing to treat Medicaid or Child KidCare patients."

Klaus called the lack of access to child dental care a hidden epidemic. The group helps pay for a dentist to check teeth in the school classroom. The Chicago Department of Public Health facilitates visits to 155 schools by dentist Dr. Twana Edwards.

"It's important because oral health is important for the overall general health of the body," Edwards said.

Second- and sixth-graders participate in the program at no cost with parental consent, Kwan reported.

"I do the fluoride treatment, the exam, a cleaning and then the sealant," Edwards said. "The sealant is the most important thing because it prevents decay."

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