In a statewide university effort to “Give Kids A Smile,” students at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine and the School of Health Related Professions will provide free dental exams and cleanings to underserved kids 12 and under. In addition, Rutgers undergraduates interested in dentistry will volunteer their time to support the program at about 100 dental clinics across the state.
Give Kids a Smile often marks a youngster’s first dental visit, sometimes several years after their first birthday, something the organizers would like to see change. TheAmerican Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends the first dental visit by age 12 months, or within six months after the first tooth is visible, which typically occurs at around six months. But most parents – an estimated 97 percent, according to an AAPD-sponsored survey – are not aware of the recommendation, with most initial dental visits occurring at 2 to 3 years of age.
“Certainly, some parents resist the 12-month guideline, but we know that oral bacteria can be acquired from the mother and trigger early tooth decay,” says Christopher V. Hughes, professor and chair of pediatric dentistry at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “We see lots of data showing that children with decay early have higher rates of decay when they are older than children who are healthy,” he said. “Lifetime risks are established early. Risk and vulnerability continue.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that uninsured children are more than six times as likely to have unmet dental needs as children covered by private health insurance.
In addition to checking for signs of oral disease or other high-risk factors, Hughes said the early visit encourages parents to establish the “dental home” – optimal oral hygiene habits; the consumption of fluoride-containing products when fluoridated water is unavailable; and a carefully managed diet, avoiding, for example, sugary milk, formula or juice bottles to help babies fall asleep.
At Rutgers’ GKAS day, each child is examined and receives a cleaning, a fluoride treatment and a toothbrush and tips about oral hygiene. Follow-up visits are planned for children deemed to be high risk or in need of treatment.
The Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) expects hundreds of children ages 12 and under to turn out at its Give Kids a Smile event on the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciencescampus in Newark this year. The RSDM Galloway, Somerdale and Northfield clinics and Rutgers’ School of Health Related Professions in Scotch Plains are also participating in the program.
In Newark, kids are entertained by a magician and face-painting activities in a carnival-like atmosphere and taught about oral health and hygiene while they await their exam. GKAS 2014 at Rutgers is funded by the PNC Foundation.
“Obviously, some who have never seen the dentist or not for a long time, need follow up care, and that’s why this day is so important for them,” Debra Goldsmith, associate professor in the department of periodontics, who coordinates the GKAS day at Rutgers. “It gets them familiar with the dentist and with what they can do at home to practice good oral hygiene.”