New oral health program targets young children
Research shows that children with healthy teeth do better in the classroom. That's why two local organizations have formed a partnership to provide an oral health program for young children.
The new program has received $303,266 to provide free oral screenings and fluoride varnishing for children age 5 and younger.
Application of fluoride varnish in combination with oral health education for parents has been shown to reduce the incidence of early childhood tooth decay, according to First Things First.
The program will teach children how to establish routine dental care and support their performance in school, said Nena Garcia, First Things First parent awareness and community outreach coordinator for the Yuma and Cocopah regions.
Through a partnership with the First Things First Yuma Regional Partnership Council and the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension in Yuma County, children will be able to access care that will prevent dental decay.
“Childhood tooth decay is one of the most common preventable diseases. However, I continue to see the devastating effects of early childhood decay,” said Megan McNeece, dental hygienist from the UA Cooperative Extension.
“Our goal at First Smile Yuma is to bring knowledge to the parents and excitement to the children regarding oral health and the importance of establishing routine dental care and support their performance in school.”
The “First Smile Yuma” program provides parent education, dental screenings, fluoride varnish applications and works with local dental providers to serve young children, especially children with special needs. The goal of First Smile Yuma is to help families establish regular dental visits and learn about oral health and healthy lifetime dental habits for children.
First Things First points to research that shows that dental problems, when left untreated, can impair classroom learning and behavior. This, in turn, can negatively affect a child's social and cognitive development. The organization notes that pain from cavities, abscesses and toothaches often prevents children from being able to focus in class.
In addition, dental issues are the most frequent cause of school absences among young children. About a third of all current kindergartners have untreated tooth decay, which can undermine their performance in class.
First Things First supports a variety of programs, including First Smile Yuma, that teach children proper dental care, beginning as early as when the first tooth appears, or no later than a child's first birthday, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
The First Things First State Board approved the $303,266 grant as recommended by the organization's Yuma Regional Partnership Council, the local decision-making body charged with prioritizing the needs of young children in Yuma County.
Volunteers on the regional council wanted to ensure that young children have early diagnosis, treatment and prevention of oral disease, according to a press release.
“First Things First works to make sure that every child in Arizona comes to school on their first day of kindergarten healthy and prepared to succeed,” the release stated.
First Things First, approved by Arizona voters, works to ensure that the youngest children have access to “quality” early childhood experiences so they will start school “healthy and ready to succeed.”
Across the state, regional partnership councils, in collaboration with local leaders, identify the educational and health needs of children from birth to age 5 in their communities and fund strategies to address those needs.
The First Smile Yuma program can be reached at 726-3904.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.