Dental disease is the most common chronic childhood illness, and one in five Missouri third-graders has untreated tooth decay. Kansas City area Pediatric Dentist Dr. Aaron Bumann says if left untreated, tooth decay can result in problems with eating, speaking and learning.
“Think about if your teeth hurt and you’re seven, and you’re at school,” says Bumann. “You don’t want to talk to anybody, you don’t want to participate in class. It’s hard to focus, you’re not really able to do what you need to do on a daily basis.”
Toothaches are responsible for an estimated 34 million lost hours of school nationwide each year.
Give Kids a Smile Day started in St. Louis in 2002 as a small grassroots effort and is now a national event to raise awareness about the importance of oral health and the unmet dental needs of children. More than 5,000 Missouri children have received free care through the initiative.
Good oral health starts with prevention, and Bumann – who is also a public policy advocate for the Missouri Academy of Public Dentistry – says it’s important to establish a “dental home” at a young age, so children can establish good oral health habits.
However, he notes, some people struggle to find affordable dental care coverage and not enough providers who accept Medicaid.
“Medicaid providers,” says Bumann. “We’re in dire need for more so that, you know, we can help provide care to people that already have the insurance but then, don’t necessarily have anywhere to go to get care.”
Missouri also has 334 areas deemed “Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas,” where there simply aren’t enough dentists to meet the need.