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Early Care is Focus of Children's Dental Health Month in Iowa

Early dental care can help a child grow in a variety of ways. (
Early dental care can help a child grow in a variety of ways. (
February 5, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa - While going to a dentist may not be at the top of a child's list of fun things to do, good oral health is vital to his or her overall health.

Oral-health consultant Stephanie Chickering, an adviser to the Iowa Department of Public Health's I-Smile Dental Home Initiative, said it's a support system for families who can't otherwise afford care - and there are a lot of them in Iowa.

"We have just as many people in need as we did 20 or 30 years ago," she said. "I-Smile is a very important program because not every child has access to a dentist."

Seventy-one percent more Medicaid-enrolled children received care from a dentist last year than in 2005, yet the cost per child has only risen by $6.35 over the last decade. I-Smile creates a "dental home" for families to connect with a variety of health professionals and ensure children get the care they need.

Chickering said it's never too early to begin practicing preventive dental care.

"It is very important for children to see a dentist by age 1. If the child has serious tooth decay or other mouth problems, they have trouble eating, sleeping; they have trouble learning new skills at school, they have trouble at home," she said. "A child with a healthy mouth has a lot more confidence."

Since cavities can be present when a child's first teeth come in, she said, it's important to begin regular brushing as soon as teeth are visible and to begin flossing when the first teeth touch.

Chickering added that it's a common stereotype that people of all ages avoid the dentist because of fear - but that also can be cured by starting children young.

"It's important for children to see their dentist at an early age to help avoid any fear or misconception that one might have about visiting a dentist," she said. "The more a child is familiar with a dentist and a dentist's office, the less fear that will be present later in life."

More information about the I-Smile program is online at

Jeff Stein, Public News Service - IA