MOORE — Fifteen Norman and Moore dentists are offering free dental exams for elementary-school-aged children before they go back to school this fall.
More than 200 dentists across Oklahoma are providing free screenings at their offices for children July 31 to help them avoid tooth decay that could distract them from their studies.
“If children have toothaches or decay, it can take them away from learning and getting an education,” said Kristen Wolever, a dentist at Norman Smile Center, which is participating in the free screenings.
Tooth decay affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children ages 2 to 5 and half of those ages 12 to 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tooth decay is common yet preventable and can cause pain, dysfunction, difficulty concentrating and school absences that affect a child’s ability to succeed.
“I think there’s a perception out there that some people feel they don’t need to go to the dentist until there’s pain,” said Lynn Means, executive director of the Oklahoma Dental Association.
Twelve states require children to get some type of dental screening before they can enroll in school, according to a report released in 2008 by the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors.
In 2009, members of the Oklahoma Dental Association decided to try to introduce similar legislation, according to a Statement by Timothy Fagan, the association’s president. The legislation drafted was modeled after California’s policy, which requires children entering kindergarten or first grade to receive oral health assessments from licensed dentists before they can enroll in school.
However, the response from other organizations earlier this year made members of the Oklahoma Dental Association decide not to pursue the legislation, Means said.
“So we decided to go the volunteer route instead,” Means said.
Which is why the association is encouraging dentists across the state to offer free screenings for children.
“Thousands of hours of school time are lost every year because children are in pain (from dental cavities),” Means said. “Dental cavities is one of the most prevalent childhood diseases ... The only one more prevalent is the common cold.”