Lois: Coordinating a collaborative to crack down on cavities
Cavities are currently the leading chronic disease among Colorado’s children, five times more common than asthma. In fact, children lose over 7 million school hours every year in Colorado due to oral health problems alone. Luckily for Grand County children, an ongoing collaborative effort has been working to combat childhood cavities in the community. In recognition of Children’s Oral Health month, this week marks the beginning of the 4th annual oral health days across schools in Grand County.
Since 2013, every child enrolled in licensed childcare and elementary school is given the opportunity once a year to get a dental screening and fluoride application during the school day, completely free of charge. Kids get to talk with local dentists about the condition of their teeth, learn about healthy dental habits from the tooth fairy, and even take home an oral health goodie bag. This year, parents and siblings can even RSVP with Grand Beginnings to join in with students, making healthy teeth a whole family priority.
For Grand Beginnings, local improvement of oral health is more than just a lofty goal. In fact, this movement has been gaining momentum in the community for years. In 2005, 59 percent of kids in Grand County had untreated tooth decay. Today, that number is closer to 16 percent. Rarely do communities, big or small, rural or urban, accomplish this degree of change within one decade.
Such progress is thanks to a rich combination of engaged partners, truly demonstrating collective impact. Schools, private dental practices, public health officials, nonprofit organizations, and community members come to the table year after year to make sustainable, measurable differences in the oral health of young kids.
But early identification and treatment of cavities is only one slice of the pie. Besides the screenings, Grand Beginnings is utilizing a grant from the Delta Dental Foundation of Colorado to spread oral health messaging to audiences throughout the county. Whether it is incorporating oral health information into the local newspaper or dispersing materials to help families maintain good dental habits at home, using marketing techniques to protect childhood health can be a powerful tool.
Yet there is still much progress to be made. Many children in the county are still without a dental home, meaning that they do not have a dentist who knows them and sees them consistently. Every child age 1 and older should visit the dentist every six months, and several organizations in the community are working to ensure that this is possible, regardless of income or insurance status. Also, the majority of kids in Grand County, nearly 75 percent, live in areas without fluoride in their water. This is true despite the fact that water fluoridation is inexpensive, safe, and proven to reduce tooth decay by 20-40 percent.
By collaborating across domains using evidence-based strategies, Grand Beginnings is confident that Grand County will continue to advance this initiative.
Katy Lois is the Health Systems Coordinator at Grand Beginnings.
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