Opinion

Sen. Rockefeller Column: For a healthy start, every child must have access to dental care

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, which is an annual reminder of the actions families can take to ensure good oral health for their children so they are prepared for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

We know that dental cavities are one hundred percent preventable and that there are many steps we can take to prevent oral diseases. The key is to start good habits early and maintain them throughout our lives.

It’s important to protect your child’s teeth with fluoride by brushing teeth daily using fluoridated toothpaste. You can also safeguard your child’s dental health by encouraging them to eat regular nutritious meals and avoid frequent between-meal snacking.

Sadly, not everyone is able to access dental care or the resources that are known to prevent dental diseases and protect dental health. One of the many memories I have from my days as VISTA volunteer in Emmons is driving kids to the dentist for their very first dental exam. This particular experience was so meaningful to me, and ever since then, I have worked to make sure all children have access to good oral health care. No child should be denied this care because of where they live or because their parents can’t afford it.

Because I believe so strongly that every child deserves access to dental care – whether it is from a dentist or dental hygienist, or at a primary care clinic or school-based health center – I fought to include dental coverage in all Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plans when the law was reauthorized five years ago this month. Congress took additional steps during health reform to better incorporate dental care in our children’s health care coverage and those changes are now law. This year I will be focusing on extending CHIP so future generations, as well as the 37,000 West Virginia children already enrolled in CHIP, will continue to get the care they need for a healthy start in life.

Information on pediatric dental care is available to you online. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a helpful guide on how to prevent cavities by following this link:http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/ToothDecayProcess.htm. For more information on West Virginia CHIP, and to determine whether your family is eligible for this program, please visit: http://www.chip.wv.gov/.

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