Michigan takes big step toward better oral health care for students

Did you know that Delta Dental is a non-profit organization? It’s true. Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana is a 501(c)(4) entity with an important mission: “To improve oral health through benefit plans, advocacy, and community support.” 

In mid-December, that mission was supported in a big way when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 280 into law, adding dental screenings to the panel of health checks required for incoming kindergartners in Michigan. 

Delta Dental of Michigan’s policy staff invested hundreds of hours into the passage of the legislation, which has the potential to greatly impact oral health in Michigan kids. More than 67,800 children entering kindergarten do not have critical preventative care and have not had their teeth examined by a dental professional. The consequences can be enormous. Children with advanced tooth decay may have distracting pain, find it hard to sleep at night, or have trouble eating foods essential for growth. In its early stages, tooth decay often causes no pain or discomfort and can go unnoticed until it worsens. 

With the passage of SB280, oral health assessments will help to identify students who may need dental care and help them connect to it. Local health departments have been partnering with schools for decades to provide vision and hearing screenings for school children, and these dental screenings will be no different. They’re a quick, easy, and non-invasive way to assess oral health and make a referral to a dentist, if needed. 

To help kick off the program, the Delta Dental Foundation provided grant dollars to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to defray start-up costs. “Increasing access to oral care through required dental assessments will improve the lives of thousands of children,” said Holli Seabury, EdD, executive director of the Delta Dental Foundation (DDF). “This new law will help improve the health of tens of thousands of Michigan children and help ensure success in school and in life.” 

Although preventable with good oral hygiene and access to dental care, tooth decay remains the most common chronic childhood disease (five times more common than asthma) and is responsible for 51 million missed school hours nationally each year. In Michigan, almost half of Head Start children suffer from tooth decay, and close to one-third have untreated decay. 

The passage of SB280 has the potential to turn the tide and is a shining example of Delta Dental’s commitment to improving access to oral health care for all. 

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