Strengthening the ways in which children in our neighborhoods have access to quality dental care can be greatly influenced by practicing dentists in the area. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children from low-income families and ethnic minorities have been shown to have substandard oral hygiene, less use of preventive dental services and have higher untreated carious lesions, compared to children from higher-income households. You do not have to be a dental public health professional to help bridge the gap in dental health disparities. In fact, here are four ways that dentists working in private practice can help children in their own communities receive better access to basic dental care.
- Be an advocate for community water fluoridation.
As we already know, one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reach an entire community is to supplement the drinking water with fluoride. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named community water fluoridation one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. The American Dental Association reports that having an optimal level of fluoride in community water prevents tooth decay by at least 25% in both children and adults. Find out if your town or city uses water fluoridation, and if it doesn’t, then be an advocate for it! Speak to your city council and local officials to opt for fluoride levels that are in favor of the health of your community.
- Serve on your local school board health advisory committee.
Your school health advisory committee is composed of various community members who provide advice to a school on its health program. A great way to impact the children in your town’s district is to actively be a part of this committee. You can start by initiating a conversation relating to dental health disparities between children of low-income families and children of higher-income families in your immediate municipality. Work with the committee to launch a program that screens children in your district for dental diseases and/or volunteer with your dental team to go into the school to administer fluoride varnishes and sealants to children in need of them. Another approach that requires a little less time and effort but still provides considerable impact is going into classrooms to teach children proper oral hygiene and healthy habits to prevent cavities.
- Volunteer clinical services.
Using your practice to serve the children in your community is a powerful and impactful way to pay forward your skills and education that are unique to dentistry. There is a program called Give Kids A Smile, founded by the ADA, which works with dentists to provide underserved children access to quality dental care. Dentists who participate can open their dental offices for the day to provide exams, preventative treatment and restorative treatment to children in their area who would not be able to afford that type of care. Normally, the event is held on the first Friday in February of every year, but you can choose any time that works for you. You can recruit other volunteers to work with you and/or have your dental team join in. The ADA reports that more than 6 million underserved children have received free oral health services through Give Kids A Smile.
- Provide information for expectant mothers and new parents.
Improving parents’ oral health literacy can be a useful tool to promote their children’s dental health status. Many caregivers, especially those who demonstrate a lower income, have little knowledge on how to properly care for their children’s teeth. Educating parents on healthy oral hygiene habits such as brushing, flossing, frequency of carbohydrate intake, nighttime nursing and bottle feeding, etc., are all invaluable to children and their health. This could be as simple as creating a pamphlet with information and working with your town or city to see where and whom they can go to. Expanding your knowledge to the public can significantly help the underserved children in your community.
~Emma Cameron, New York ‘24