Good Beginnings: It often starts with a smile

A great smile isn’t the only benefit of good dental care. Having limited dental health can impact a child’s performance in school and affect their achievement in the long run. We need to look at our children’s success in school and life in a more holistic way. Hawaii’s children should be healthy, safe, and ready to succeed, a key goal of the “Be My Voice” Hawaii’s public awareness campaign for children.

Dental caries (tooth decay) is the single most chronic disease of childhood, five times more frequent than asthma. The consequences of poor oral health can be severe. It can include difficulty in eating, which can affect growth and development; improper nutritional diet; and reduced self-esteem. In fact, one in five children do not see a dentist before the age of nine, partially due to limited access to dental care for low-income and rural areas especially on the neighbor islands. Children between the ages of four and nine have an average of four decayed teeth, and untreated caries can lead to serious infection, pain, speech problems, even death!

Dental caries is a preventable childhood disease but if left untreated it can severely affect the child’s health. Oral health is closely link to nutrition. Smart food choices early in life can have a major impact on the oral health of children. In addition, scheduling regular dental visits help children get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gum. Children should see a dentist at least twice a year beginning at the early age of one.

The Kaua‘i Dental Health Task Force (KDHTF) is a small group of community members provides oral health education and information to preschools. Besides learning about proper brushing, flossing, cavities and nutrition, children received a dental incentive bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, fluoride rinse, waxed dental floss, a nutrition-coloring book etc. KDHTF have partnered with Community Case Management Corporation to do more outreach to the community through various family events.

Recently, a Children’s Oral Health Summit was webcasted to all the neighbor islands in response to a PEW report that suggested that the state was not effective in using proven preventative strategies in meeting its policy benchmarks. National speakers and neighbor island representatives shared what each community have been doing to learn from others and build on success.

Healthy lifestyle habits should be establish in the formative years. Parents need to begin the process when baby is born by wiping baby’s gums with a clean, soft cloth after feeding. Stay away from sugary drinks and provide water. Teach children how to brush their teeth and encourage healthy snacks. Talk to your child about healthy and nutritious foods while you are shopping or making dinner together. Have regular annual visits to the dentists, and be mindful of appointments that have been set, if unable to make your child’s dentistry appointment, have the courtesy to call and cancel. There could be others that could use that time and service, the dentist will appreciate that call.

As a community, we need to do our part in advocating for accessible services for our most vulnerable clients (children). Appropriate dental services for young children should be introduce so it does not instill fear and anxiety. Children’s dental care needs to be available on Kaua‘i so we do not have to send the child and their parent to Oahu to receive services.

 Families need to understand the impact cavities have on their child’s health and school performance and seek medical attention, sooner than later. Education begins at home with the family the values that you teach your children today will be values that they will carry on to their own children. It really does take a village to raise a child!

Good Beginnings Alliance is a statewide advocacy organization for young children. GBA kicked off the grassroots “Be My Voice” endorsement campaign urging citizens to speak up for our children’s best interest. By signing the endorsement, you are acknowledging the need to invest in our children, making their success a top priority in our state. Do you believe our keiki deserve the opportunity to succeed in school and in life? Do you believe our keiki deserve access to affordable and accessible quality educational opportunities, health and family strengthening services? Show your support and sign the endorsement at www.bemyvoicehawaii.org.

• Anna Peters is the Kaua‘i coordinator for Good Beginnings Alliance. For more information, call 632-2114 or visit www.goodbeginnings.org.

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