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Bill Cirone: Brighter Smiles and the Power of Partnerships

February 2016 marks National Children’s Dental Health Month. This month-long national health observance spotlights the thousands of dedicated dental healthcare and educational professionals who work in partnership to promote the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers and teachers.

On Feb. 2, 2016, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution, sponsored by Salud Carbajal, underscoring the importance of oral health to children and their education as well as supporting the work of the local collaborative.

A little known fact is that tooth decay is the most common illness affecting U.S. children today. Yet, we know that it can be prevented or improved with proper identification, preventative education and treatment.

The importance of prevention cannot be overstated. Untreated dental disease can be extremely painful, which in turn can cause poor academic performance and behavior problems.

It can also cause problems with chewing or speaking and reduce self-esteem. If dental disease is not treated early, it can result in the need for more serious and expensive intervention later.

The good news for Santa Barbara County school children is that a broad based local coalition of parents, educators, dental professionals, government and foundation officials are working together to address the problem.

More good news is that this coalition is making progress. The incidents of untreated dental disease are decreasing countywide, according to the results of recent State Preschool Dental Screenings.

Santa Maria students showed an incident rate of 20 percent last year — down from 50 percent just five years earlier. Goleta/Isla Vista’s incident rate is down 15 percent over the last five years. Lompoc’s incident rates have decreased by 11 percent over that same time period.

I salute the work of all involved in making such a difference. A special nod goes to the Public Health Department’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Maternal Child & Adolescent Health (MCAH) programs, which offered preventative oral health education to 7,200 families in 2015.

In addition, the Santa Barbara County Education Office Health Linkages Program offered oral health education to 4,000 families with preschool children.

They also provide 8,000 fluoride varnish applications a year and have trained medical providers countywide to provide an additional 10,000 applications to children at well-child check ups.

Brighter smiles among our community’s children are also due to the efforts of local philanthropists and dentists.

Last year, local foundations provided over $820,000 for the Oral Health Collaborative’s “Children’s Orthodontia Project” for 2016-18. The grant will provide 100 low-income students per year, for two years, with orthodontia.

Ten high caliber community orthodontists are instrumental to this program, too. To participate in this project, each orthodontist is willing to take reduced fees to treat students.

“We have been coordinating efforts to address the unmet dental needs of the county’s children for over 25 years. Collaborations like this, with input and support from government officials, private practitioners and compassionate nonprofit organizations, are what make our work so gratifying,” say Health Linkages Program officials Georgene Lowe and MaryEllen Rehse. “People do care, and they demonstrate time and again their willingness to walk the walk.”

Talk about a perfect illustration of the power of partnerships. What a great local story to mark National Children’s Dental Health Month.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

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