To see Carmen now you wouldn’t know that only months earlier she was just beginning to speak, eat better during meal times and shine in the classroom. Carmen was thought to be a quiet young child who was not adjusting well in school. Then, a United Way Bright Smiles dental outreach worker examined Carmen for potential oral health problems; she found severe tooth decay and abscesses.
Tooth decay is the single most common, chronic disease among U.S. children—five times more common than asthma. Yet, it is completely preventable. Children with untreated decay suffer from pain, infection and premature loss of teeth, which can cause behavioral, learning and developmental problems. Children from low income families are more likely to be uninsured or under insured and less likely to see a dentist. Nationally, 80 percent of tooth decay is found in just 25 percent of children.
Like United Ways across the country, Greater Twin Cities United Way is ensuring children learn healthy behaviors that can prevent costly, future problems. Bright Smiles is a community partnership providing oral healthcare for low-income children ages five and under in the Twin Cities metro area. They screen for tooth decay, educate families on the importance of oral health and coordinate further dental care as needed. Since the program started three years ago, Bright Smiles partners have provided dental services to nearly 12,000 children, most having never seen a dentist before and one-third having no insurance.
Preschool staff at Carmen’s school and their dental clinic partners encouraged her parents to accompany her at dental appointments, despite their fear of the dentist and concern about costs. Eventually, Carmen received the critical treatment she needed through United Way Bright Smiles. Investing in preventative care and providing free health care services is another way United Way is creating a stronger foundation for everyone to enjoy the basic building blocks of a good life—education, income, and health.
The success of United Way Bright Smiles has come through the development of partnerships among parents, dental providers and schools. Work is done to remove barriers such as long waiting lists, need for language translation or transportation and costs that cause families to delay care until there is an emergency.
Investing in screening and educating about healthy oral health practices prevents costly dental procedures, chronic pain and lost hours of school and work. This benefits far more than the children and families served directly. Everyone benefits when children are healthy and succeed in school, when families are financially stable and when people have good health.
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