Most of us are guilty of skipping a trip to the dentist once in a while, or fudging the numbers a bit when asked how frequently we floss. But did you know that poor oral hygiene might lead to an increased risk of heart disease? Or that your dentist may be the first to notice if you’re exhibiting warning signs for health conditions like diabetes? Oral health is far more important than you might realize, and plays an important role in your overall health and wellness. Aside from the fact that gum disease can contribute to other serious health problems, a healthy mouth is crucial for lots of life’s simple pleasures. Smiling, eating, laughing, singing and speaking are just a few of the basic functions that depend on it, and dental problems can cause serious pain and discomfort if left untreated. Many Americans aren’t getting the dental care they need. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention reports that tooth decay affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2–5, and half of those aged 12–15. About half of all children and two-thirds of adolescents aged 12–19 years from lower-income families have had decay. As ambassadors for the health and wellbeing of not just our Members, but the entire communities we serve, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies share a commitment to tackling challenges like this one. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Hawaii and its foundation, The Hawaii Medical Service Association Foundation, are applying The Power of Blue - The Blues® commitment to creating healthier communities - to help combat this issue. The Hawaii Medical Service Association Foundation has partnered with the Aloha Medical Mission (AMM) since 1999 to provide free dental care to underserved Hawaii residents. In 2002, AMM opened a dental clinic at Palama Settlement in Honolulu’s low-income Kalihi-Palama district, and patients came from across Oahu for free dental care. Since its inception, AMM has provided nearly $5.4 million in basic dental care, including exams, cleanings, fillings and extractions to more than 23,000 uninsured, low-income residents. AMM, a volunteer-driven organization, also provides community outreach and specialized programs, including: First Smile: This education program for preschool and kindergarten students emphasizes the importance of proper dental care at a young age to prevent complications later in life. To date, 1,039 students and 60 parents have participated in the program. Welcome Smile: This program provides temporary restorative dentistry for women who have experienced abuse or incarceration. Patients receive temporary prosthetic pieces to help build their confidence so they can lead healthy, productive lives. Community Outreach. A dedicated outreach coordinator educates the community on dental health and the availability of AMM’s services. To date, AMM has reached 6,908 underserved individuals. Through this initiative, The Power of Blue has reached nearly 7,000 under-served individuals who would otherwise not have dental care, preventing an untold number of other serious health issues that might have surfaced if left unattended – and that’s something to smile about. To learn more about other Blue Cross and Blue Shield community programs, check out the full Investing in America’s Health report.