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Ohio Children Smiling Wide Thanks to Free Dental Visits

February 2, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Thousands of Ohio children have a great reason to show off those pearly whites. "Give Kids a Smile Day," is Friday, and providers throughout the state will offer free dental care to children from low-income families as part of National Children's Dental Health Month.

Preventive dental care is a critical component of a child's overall health, says Dr. Tom Kelly, chairman of the Greater Cleveland Give Kids a Smile program, yet it's still the number-one unmet health care need in Ohio. Kelly says help is out there for those who can't afford it.

"There's lots of programs within the state - whether it be at dental schools, at clinics or at private dental offices - that do either free or reduced care for children. The main thing is making sure that families know where to get that care and how to get that care."

Dental disease can threaten a child's health and well-being, and make it difficult to eat, sleep or pay attention, says Dr. Mary Applegate, medical director of Medicaid in Ohio. That's why it's critical for children to have access to oral health care and education before they enter school, she says.

"In terms of healthy eating and taking care of your teeth that have often established when the children are very young, having children learn how to take care of their teeth just like they learn how to put on their socks and shoes."

Research indicates a link between chronic oral infections and heart and lung disease, stroke, low birth weight and premature births, says Applegate, adding that a recent concerted effort within Medicaid to improve access to dental health care for children will continue.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children, Kelly says, occurring at five times the rate of asthma and seven times that of hay fever.

Give Kids a Smile Day extends throughout the year in Ohio, with an estimated 17,000 children receiving free services. Since it began in 2002, the event has produced more than $8 million in free dental care for Ohio children.

Those looking for information about how to find a provider can go to the Ohio Dental Association website at oda.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH