By ASHLEY WEIGEL
Capital News Service
LANSING – One of the greatest health risks for Michigan children is right under their noses.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease for children, said Angela Minicuci, public information officer of the Michigan Department of Community Health.
More than half of all third graders—58 percent—have some tooth decay, according to the Department of Community Health, and 25 percent of those problems are left untreated.
Dentists are distributing toothbrushes and educational materials in schools to students and teachers during February, said Tom Kochheiser, director of public affairs for the Michigan Dental Association, because it is National Children’s Oral Health month. Tooth decay is a big issue afflicting children, even though it is preventable through regular brushing, flossing and a healthy diet, Kochheiser said.
Michigan students miss 51 million hours of school every year due to oral health problems, according to Delta Dental Michigan. Kids with recent oral health pain are four times more likely to have lower grade point averages in high school than kids who haven’t.
Third graders aren’t the only ones with tooth decay. It affects the health of more than 25 percent of U.S. children ages 2-5, and half of children ages 12-19, according to the Center for Disease Control. The numbers are even higher in lower-income families: half of all children and two-thirds of teenagers from lower-income families have had problems with tooth decay.
Many kids below the poverty line can’t afford proper dental care, so the Department of Community Health offers many programs to get children the dental care, Minicuci said. Established in 2000, the Healthy Kids Dental program is now in 78 counties, serving more than 494,000 children.
The program is a partner effort between the department and Delta Dental Michigan, who provided almost $325,000 for this program and other dental programs, such as Seal! Michigan and Community Water Fluoridation program. A combination of the sealants and fluoride can prevent cavities for almost 100 percent of kids living in areas with these programs, according to Teri Battaglieri, director of Corporate Citizenship and Philanthropy at Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
The direct connection between oral health and education performance is why the Delta Dental Foundation provides a lot of funding to different organizations and programs to encourage better oral health for children, Battaglieri said.
Each year the program has grown, and more money has been invested into the program. For every dollar the state contributes to Healthy Kids Dental, the federal government provides $2.
For fiscal year 2015, the governor’s budget recommended $5.4 million to expand the coverage to two more counties, Kalamazoo and Macomb. After the expansion, only three counties will be left out: Kent, Oakland and Wayne, according to Judy Putnam, communications director of the Michigan League for Public Policy. About $22.5 million would be needed to cover kids in the remaining counties, Putnam said.
The program currently covers 511,000 Medicaid eligible kids in Michigan, and the governor’s proposal would include an additional 100,000 kids. However, 402,000 children will still be left out.
“The three counties that are left out are significant,” Putnam said. They have a high number of low-income and minority children that are not receiving the dental care they need, she said.
Other programs include Seal! Michigan and Varnish! Michigan. To encourage healthy students, Seal! Michigan brings dentists into 149 schools to provide sealants for children’s teeth. Only 26.6 percent of Michigan third grade children have at least one sealant on their teeth, according to the Department of Community Health, the second lowest of all states. The other program provides free fluoride varnish for children ages 1 to 3 that qualifies for Medicaid.