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Illinois Dental Professionals Ready to "Give Kids a Smile"

Experts recommend that children have an established "dental home," with regular oral-health checkups, starting at a young age. (Adobe Stock)
Experts recommend that children have an established "dental home," with regular oral-health checkups, starting at a young age. (Adobe Stock)
February 7, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - It's "Give Kids a Smile Day," when dozens of dentists provide free teeth cleaning and oral health screenings to youngsters throughout Illinois.

Dental disease is the most common chronic childhood illness, and one in five Illinois third-graders has untreated tooth decay. President of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Dr. Kevin Donly says toothaches are responsible for an estimated 34 million lost hours of school nationwide each year.

"Also it can cause them problems eating, which can create failure to thrive," says Donly. "It can cause them sleepless nights. And it can even cause hospitalization, because dental decay is really a chronic infectious disease."

Give Kids a Smile Day grew from a small grassroots effort in 2002, into a national event to raise awareness about the importance of oral health and the unmet dental needs of children. More than 10,000 Illinois children have received free care through the initiative.

Good oral health starts with prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children see a dentist for the first time before their first birthday. Donly says it's important to establish a "dental home" at a young age, so children can establish good oral-health habits.

"Gingivitis, which is inflammation of your gums, we can see that at an early age in kids," says Donly. "And if we can get them to try to brush better, and their parents to help them brush better, we can eliminate the first signs of what we call periodontal disease."

According to a state report, all Illinois children are eligible for annual preventive dental visits. But in 2016, just two-thirds of kids with private insurance benefits, and just over half of children with Medicaid coverage, had a dental visit in the previous year.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL