Most bacteria filling people’s mouths is harmless. The body’s natural defenses, along with daily brushing and flossing, help to keep germs under control. But without proper oral healthcare, the bacteria can lead to oral health problems like tooth decay, which can in turn contribute to health conditions as serious as cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, one in four children from low-income families suffers from untreated tooth decay, twice the rate of children from higher-income households. African-American and Latino children also suffer from disproportionately high rates of untreated cavities. Families who live where there is a shortage of dental providers may also have a hard time finding a dentist for their children. Some parents may not be able to take off work to bring their children to the dentist.
To improve the dental health of these children, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey launched the “Kids’ Oral Health Program” last year to address these problems. In addition to dental care, the $500,000 program aims to help 24,000 people over two years through education and prevention.
“Our Kids’ Oral Health Program initiative is going to help improve oral health for young New Jerseyans with a higher level of risk,” said Robert A. Marino, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey Chairman & CEO and Horizon Foundation Chairman. “Cavities and dental decay are among the most common, most preventable and most treatable chronic conditions for kids in the United States.”
The foundation awarded $50,000 grants to 10 nonprofits working in several New Jersey counties. Each organization is tailoring its efforts to best meet the needs of the communities they serve. For example, The Boys & Girls Club of Newark is using the funds to provide free fluoride treatments, sealants, fillings and extractions for members. The club also offers workshops on dental health and sends kids home with brushes, toothpaste and floss.
Eva’s Village, a shelter and transitional housing program in Paterson, is using the grant to fund dental cleanings and other care for children. Workers teach mothers and children about the importance of good dental hygiene. When children need more extensive dental work, the program helps parents arrange appointments.
In Trenton, the Henry J. Austin Health Center is training dentists and hygienists to optimize care for young patients. Through the Rutgers School of Dentistry and online programs, the center is training its dental team in effective techniques for pediatric dental care. It is also working to enhance communication between the primary care and dental teams to integrate children’s oral health as a part of their overall health. The Center will also redecorate the reception area with kid-friendly designs and purchase pediatric dental care supplies.
Elsewhere, partnerships between dentists and pediatricians are being strengthened, so pediatricians can better monitor and assist with dental health. And the grant is helping to produce educational pamphlets and apps, fund a mobile dental unit and provide dental care at school and community-based health centers.
If the program is successful, thousands of children will receive dental care, some for the first time. Children and parents will learn about the benefits of regular care and develop a relationship with dental professionals. The program will lead to healthier teeth today and tomorrow — and that’s something everyone can smile about.