Leaders aim to fortify oral health

Community leaders will talk about how to continue their campaign to improve the oral health — and thus the general health — of children throughout the county during the third annual summit of the Children’s Oral Health Coalition on Friday at the Embassy Suites.

The summit marks the fifth year that county leaders have been aggressively fighting what the Board of Supervisors has proclaimed a significant local health issue.

In a resolution last week declaring Children’s Dental Health Month, the board decried dental decay in general and added that there are “significant oral health disparities” in the county “with low-income and minority children having the highest level of dental disease.”

They said nearly 60 percent of children in third grade do not have dental sealants, “a well-accepted clinical intervention to prevent tooth decay in permanent molar teeth.”

In addition to unpleasant long-range implications from tooth decay, there are serious short-term problems, advocates say. A child sitting in a classroom in pain clearly cannot learn effectively, for example.

Susan Hughes, executive director of the county branch of the children’s advocacy organization First 5, said various groups and members of the dental, school and public health communities have been pulling together for more than half a decade.

They have made progress, including forming the commission, creating a long-range plan and working to hire a county oral health program manager last April.

They also are working on free dental clinics for children whose parents or guardians cannot afford to send their kids to the dentist.

But there is still a long way to go, Hughes said, in increasing access to care and prevention, as well as developing ways to link the various oral health care providers throughout the county. Leaders also will be exploring the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the oral health of local children.

The summit will examine all this and more, as well as honor those who have fought for children’s dental health.

Advance registration is required. For information go to www.slooralhealth.org.