OHSU Provides Care for Give Kids A Smile Day

02/01/05    Portland, Ore.

Chronic infectious disease that causes cavities is second most prevalent disease in children behind common cold; poor children have twice as much tooth decay as affluent children

Cavities, gum disease and rotted teeth are just a few of the oral challenges local dentists and dental students will tackle from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 4, 2005, during the third annual 'Give Kids a Smile Day' at Oregon Health & Science University's School of Dentistry.

About 180 low-income children - all uninsured -identified by their schools' nurses as having acute dental needs will be transported from their Portland-area elementary schools to the OHSU School of Dentistry(www.ohsu.edu/sod) on Give Kids a Smile Day to receive free dentalcare. Thirty OHSU and community dentists, as well as 160 OHSU dental students, will care for the children. Pre-dental students from Portland State University also will be volunteering.

Give Kids a Smile Day is sponsored by the American Dental Association (www.ada.org), Crest toothpaste (Procter & Gamble), dental supply and design company Sullivan-Schein, and the Multnomah Dental Society (www.multnomahdental.org) to highlight the problem of untreated oral disease among children.

"Many of the children we see on Give Kids a Smile Day have never been to the dentist before, so the problems we'll be treating are often more complicated and time consuming than an average dental visit," said Prashant Gagneja, D.D.S., M.S., an assistant professor and head of OHSU's Department of Pediatric Dentistry. "The kids come to us with their completed dental assessments, X-rays, and diagnostics, and we provide as much care as we can on Give Kids a Smile Day."

"If follow-up care is needed, we send a note home to the parentsexplaining what is needed and how to get the care," added Gagneja. "This is also a good opportunity to educate parents about the importance of preventive dental care - flossing and brushing and regular dental visits - for their kids."

The American Dental Association recommends that children see a dentist no later than their 1st birthday, yet only three out of five children have seen a dentist by kindergarten. By then, more than half (52 percent) of 6- to 8-year-olds have tooth decay, according to the Healthy People 2000 oral health update.

"If left untreated, tooth decay just continues to get worse and affects children's overall health, which carries through into an unhealthy adulthood," said Gagneja. "Studies show that pain from untreated dental disease makes it difficult for children to eat, sleep and pay attention in school. Decayed teeth also can affect children's self-esteem."

"We hope to give children a positive dental experience and help them feel comfortable smiling again."

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) reports that lack of dental insurance is a strong predictor of lack of dental care. An estimated 23 million children in the United States are without dental insurance. Children from families with annual incomes of $10,000 to $20,000 have 10 times more unmet dental needs than children whose families earn more than $50,000 per year.

"This event is a wake-up call for our policy-makers," said Gagneja. "Children in Oregon need better dental access than they have right now. The number of children we will be treating through the Give Kids a Smile event is just the tip of the iceberg, as so many more children need urgent dental care."

In the Portland-area, Kaiser Permanente, the Multnomah County health clinics and a handful of private practice dentists also will be participating in Give Kids a Smile Day.

Nationwide, about 40,000 dentists and other volunteers are expected to provide dental care for one million children on Give Kids a Smile Day. Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Carly Patterson is serving as the American Dental Association's youth ambassador for the national event.

"Give Kids a Smile Day gives our dental students valuable insight and hands-on experience into running their own practices," added Gagneja. "We will have 12 different patient bays set up to see the children, and each bay will have a dentist and student leader assigned to it. We expect each bay to handle 15 young patients.

"Besides the chance to provide real care to people who need it, GiveKids a Smile Day is as much an opportunity for our first- and second-year student-dentists to organize a whole morning of patients, their care, special needs, and provide insight into managing the volunteers," said Gagneja.

In 2004 OHSU's School of Dentistry dentists and dental students provided about $65,000 worth of care to approximately 150 children on Give Kids a Smile Day.

The 105-year-old OHSU School of Dentistry is the only dental school in Oregon and one of two in the Northwest. About 80 percent of Oregon's dentists attended the OHSU School of Dentistry.