The Link Between Oral Health and Ohio’s Children
A northwest Ohio mother of two walked to the front of a crowded room at a recent Voices for Ohio’s Children’s Kids Talk presentation and courageously shared her family’s story on how they improved their overall health through access to dental coverage. She described how obtaining access to oral health services had improved her and her husband’s overall health, employment prospects, and self-esteem. The mother also described how it had improved her children’s oral health because they were seeing the dentist on a regular basis. And, she shared how her family’s outlook on life had improved and how grateful they were to have access to such resources.
As this mother shared her family’s powerful story, the impact was clear on the faces of the policy makers in the room as they recognized the importance of children’s oral health as a priority issue for the Ohio General Assembly.
In Ohio, dental care is the number-one unmet health care need for children. In fact, 51% of Ohio third graders have experienced tooth decay and 340,000 Ohio children have never visited a dentist. A mouth left without treatment can affect a child’s health development, self-esteem, and learning.
Voices for Ohio’s Children is a non-partisan organization that helps ensure that the needs of Ohio’s 3 million children are prioritized at the local, state, and federal levels. One example of how they do this is through the Children’s Oral Health Action Team (COHAT), which is a coalition of 30 organizations – from education and advocacy to health care and dental – who have come together to address the needs of improved children’s oral health in Ohio.
COHAT works to ensure children have healthy teeth and gums by making sure quality oral health care is available to children regardless of family income. The organization does this by educating legislators and the community about pediatric oral health care through activities, such as hosting the Kids Talk series; promoting and supporting early prevention programs to reduce tooth decay; and encouraging regular dental check-ups as early as possible.
Additionally, COHAT works with pediatric and school nurses to advance their important role in screening for oral health needs, and provides education and referrals for treatment. Over the past year, COHAT has provided hundreds of school nurses with an Ohio School Nurse Toolkit, enabling them to organize an oral health program in their school. The toolkit makes a huge impact on how nurses are able to evaluate a child’s oral health, which they wouldn’t have known about without the work of COHAT.
“Often, professionals that work at schools are gatekeepers of children’s health, which is why it’s so vital we provide them with materials that educate them on dental care,” said Dustin McKee, policy and advocacy associate for Voices for Ohio’s Children. “Many of these professionals have received limited dental training. Our programs offer access to materials to provide basic understanding of the screening process and to eliminate anxiety when implementing oral health programs in their schools.”
With funding from the HealthPath Foundation of Ohio, COHAT has been able to employ a part-time associate, contract a lobbyist specialist, and create educational materials. As a result, it has raised awareness of the issue and state legislators are now working to improve access to oral health.
Voices for Ohio’s Children is currently hosting several free regional children’s forums for attendees to hear updates on important state issues, share insight on issues children are facing in their communities, and to learn about federal issues impacting children.