Michigan should require dental screening for all children entering kindergarten

The Healthy Kids Dental (HKD) program provides essential dental services to 550,000 eligible low-income children in all but three of Michigan’s 83 counties. When Gov. Rick Snyder announced his fiscal year 2016 state budget on Feb. 11, he proposed expanding HKD to about 210,000 more children up to age 8 in the final three un-served counties: Kent, Oakland and Wayne.

HKD was created 15 years ago by the Michigan Department of Community Health in partnership with Delta Dental of Michigan. Based on studies affirming its effectiveness in improving access to dental care, lawmakers and governors have expanded the program several times.

Preventive and regular dental care is as essential to a child’s overall health as is medical, vision and hearing care. Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in America, affecting 50 percent of first-graders and 80 percent of 17-year-olds. According to the National Association of Dental Plans, adults and children without dental coverage are 2.5 times less likely to visit the dentist than those with insurance. In addition, reports show that children miss 51 million hours of school each year because of oral health issues. Increasing access to dental care produces healthier children who are more likely to succeed in school and life.

The U.S. Surgeon General has called oral disease a “silent epidemic,” which made February’s National Children’s Dental Health Month an appropriate time to shine a light on this serious health problem. It’s also an opportunity to recognize the good policies Michigan has implemented to improve dental health for children and adults alike.

First, we need to require dental screening for all children entering kindergarten. For more than 60 years, Michigan children entering kindergarten have been required to have their vision and hearing checked. A dental screening is not required – even though one in four Michigan third-graders have untreated dental disease, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. By screening the 130,000 kids who start kindergarten in Michigan each year, we can catch dental disease before it causes serious problems and avoid health issues that may impact children’s learning and school attendance.

We also need to focus on improving oral health literacy for all in Michigan. Other states have taken the lead in developing oral health curricula that focuses on the importance of good oral health and its role in overall health – we shouldn’t let Michigan fall behind. Plus, education doesn’t stop with children – that’s why Delta Dental of Michigan is actively working to increase awareness of just how important oral health is to all Michigan citizens through our Brighter Futures initiative – you can learn more at our website.

There’s nothing better than seeing a child look up at you with a healthy, beautiful smile. Children’s oral health can – and should – be a priority in Kent, Oakland and Wayne counties and all of Michigan.

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Thu, 03/19/2015 - 9:16am
Of course the big issue is the cost and ability to pay, most likely if the child is not getting dental care the parents are not as well.
Thu, 03/19/2015 - 10:18am
Another requirement? Not that dental care isn't important, but there are probably 20 other things that could have just as strong of a case made for them too and then 20 more after those. It depends on who you are talking to at any given time. It is enough to say something is very important and leave it at that? How many more requirements do we really want or need?
Thu, 03/19/2015 - 8:44pm
Why wait until Kindergarten? The federal Head Start Preschool program requires a dental exam as well as a physical exam -- and provides funding to pay for them if children have no Medicaid or insurance coverage. Our State GSRP preschool program only requires a physical exam -- and no funding to pay for it if the child doesn't have any Medicaid or insurance coverage. Many preschoolers have major decay requiring surgery in hospitals to treat. Identifying it sooner rather later is important. So why not require state-funded preschoolers to have a dental exam?