Dental Health

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Schools Struggle to Provide Dental Health Safety Net

Dental disease at the intersection of school performance and health for thousands of California children

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource Today

Students learn how to care for their teeth and receive preventive care at a dental clinic at James Madison Middle School in Oakland. (Photo/Alameda County Public Health Department)

Students learn how to care for their teeth and receive preventive care at a dental clinic at James Madison Middle School in Oakland. (Photo/Alameda County Public Health Department)

As California educators grapple with boosting student achievement across economic lines, the teeth of poor children are holding them back.

Hundreds of thousands of children suffering from dental disease, some with teeth rotted to the gum line, are presenting California school districts with a widespread public health problem.

Increasingly, dental health advocates are looking to school districts to help solve the crisis. Innovative oral health care projects have been launched in school districts around the state that provide students with no-cost dental screening or treatment. Insurance companies are billed whenever possible.

Dental disease is at “epidemic” levels among California children, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and low-income children are disproportionately affected. They are 12 times more likely to miss school because of dental problems than children from higher-income families.

Students with toothaches were almost four times as likely to have a lower grade point average than students with healthy teeth.
“The issue is huge,” said Gordon Jackson, director of the state Department of Education’s division which oversees health, counseling and other support programs provided at schools. “Tooth decay remains one of the most chronic diseases for children and adolescents. As we’re having the conversation about California’s future and student academic achievement, we have to have a conversation about oral health as well.”

But many districts lack the resources, or balk at being asked to provide dental care on top of a rigorous curriculum.

“It’s a great idea to bring universal prevention programs of all types, including dental, to schools,” said Kimberly Uyeda, director of student medical services for the Los Angeles Unified School District. “Whether there’s enough time in the day is another question.” Continue reading

“Model” Dental Program Ultimately Painful for Children

By Kelley Weiss, Center for Health Reporting

(Ethan Denney: Flickr)

(Ethan Denney: Flickr)

Since February, reports from the CHCF Center for Health Reporting and The Sacramento Bee have painted a grim picture of low-income children waiting for months or even years to see a dentist in Sacramento. And now some state lawmakers are calling for immediate action.

Almost two decades ago the state started a managed care pilot program in Sacramento County for children’s dental care. Since then, several families have described harrowing instances of long wait times and unsuccessful attempts to get through the red tape.

Alisa Erickson testified at the state Capitol on March 15th about her 18-year-old daughter’s struggle to get dental care in Sacramento.

“Her cheek was actually swollen and she was in so much pain, that she missed school, she could not sleep because every time she laid down … her tooth would throb so bad she’d start crying,” Erickson says.

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