Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, Senator Benjamin Cardin, and Representative Elijah Cummings joined more than 200 invited guests at the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry on the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland on March 23 to launch the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids campaign, which targets pregnant women and children up to 6 years.
The campaign by the Maryland Dental Action Coalition (MDAC), supported by a strategic alliance with the state Office of Oral Health, is designed to stem a tide of dangerous risks associated with childhood oral disease.
The principle behind the campaign is that delaying or skipping dental treatment, or not requiring proper oral hygiene and dietary practices, can increase a child's chances for developing pediatric oral disease, which can lead to serious long-term repercussions including malnourishment, learning delays, behavioral problems, or in extreme cases-death.
The campaign has been "in the works" for three years and has built momentum as more supporters have joined, said Harry Goodman, DMD, MPH, MDAC board member and director of the Office of Oral Health at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"We need to do a better job communicating to parents about how important oral health is to overall health," Goodman said. "All too often, families don't place a lot of emphasis on oral health, unless there's an emergency. They also do not realize that they should start bringing their kids in to see a dentist by no later than their first birthday. That surprises a lot of people, but tooth decay is an infectious, yet preventable disease that often starts during infancy."
The initial impetus for the program was the tragic death in 2007 of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver from an untreated tooth infection, which could have been prevented with proper care, said Brown (pictured), who is chair of the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council. "No mother should ever lose a child to tooth decay. Not enough children in Maryland get Medicaid help.
Cardin said, "This is an important moment. We face a disease that is preventable. Yes, we have a problem in Maryland and we have to do something about it. It is 100 percent preventable."
Cummings said, "After Deamonte Driver died the entire Congress knew his name and knew the tragedy. And we are going to do something every day to continue this effort." He continued, "When we have children who know about care for teeth and parents who know, we will have generations of people who can take care of themselves. So this is a great day.
"Both federal and state leaders have worked together to ensure that Deamonte Driver's death would not be in vain," said Cummings. "Through the involvement of all of these stakeholders, I believe this campaign will help to prevent oral disease and educate the public about how to best access the care. I am proud to support the campaign."
Baltimore mother Vanessa Pearl spoke about her experience with her 4-year-old son, Marcus. While at The Ark, a Baltimore preschool for homeless children, Pearl and her son accessed a free dental screening program-an opportunity that would not have been available prior to the Driver tragedy. Through that screening, Pearl learned Marcus had several cavities that, if left untreated, may have threatened his health. "It's hard to take your kids to the dentist when you have limited resources. But with programs like these, you can keep your child healthy and get him the care that he needs."
Through the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids campaign's free hotline (1-855-45-TEETH), available in English and Spanish, callers can speak with a person who can answer oral health questions or get help finding a dentist. The program's educational brochures are also available at community centers and health care facilities the state.