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Healthy Teeth Help Kids Thrive

Do you ever think about your teeth? What do teeth mean? A pretty smile? The best approach to a crunchy Maine apple? A highly prized form of currency? (Yes, better than bitcoin if you’re the Tooth Fairy.)

But there’s a much more serious side to teeth. Good teeth can mean the difference between a good job and unemployment. Extensive dental disease can lead to excruciating pain.Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children – five times more prevalent than asthma. For kids, dental disease and the pain it causes can result in poor performance in school, with long-term implications for lifetime health and success.

As then-Surgeon General David Satcher noted in the comprehensive report, “Oral Health in America,” published in 2000, there is a silent epidemic of dental disease in the United States. We have not made much progress in the past decade and a half, in spite of knowing even more about successful strategies to improve oral health than we did then. In recent years, Dr. Satcher has continued to call for action to address the profound oral health disparities that exist, especially for poor children and children of color.

MeHAF has been involved in efforts to improve oral health and access to dental care from the beginning of our grantmaking activities in 2002. We’ve made grants to support improvements to safety net dental clinics, including replacing aging and obsolete dental equipment, and purchasing software and hardware to support digital radiography. Since 2002, we’ve provided grant support of more than $2.3 million to improve the oral health of Mainers.

In 2014, working in concert with other Maine-based funders, we have a new opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the oral health of Maine children. MeHAF and the other foundations that are part of the Maine Oral Health Funders group have pooled funds to make grants to communities to develop strategies with the goal of reducing dental disease among kids age 0 to 9.  Six communities have received grants to bring together a range of organizations that touch children’s lives to build close partnerships that will help kids have healthy mouths and teeth. 

Kids need every advantage, and support from multiple organizations in our communities, to be healthy so they can participate successfully in school, sports, music and social activities. By helping Maine communities come together to address kids’ oral health, they will take part in halting the silent epidemic – and in making sure that their children have a positive start that will last throughout their lives.

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