Smiles shine bright at Children’s Center

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 30, 2005

The Children’s Center

The Children’s Center is all smiles, thanks to a new state program to combat dental decay.

Dental decay remains the most prevalent chronic disease of children in Virginia, according to the state Department of Health. Data collected in Virginia as well as the recently released National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicates that 24 to 28 percent of children under age 5 have dental decay.

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Combating the problem of early dental decay is Bright Smiles for Babies, funded through a federal grant and administered by the Virginia Department of Health. Bright Smiles, a decay prevention program for baby teeth, stresses the importance of good oral hygiene for young children, said Susan Pharr, coordinator of early childhood oral health with the VDH. The program encompasses parental education, dental screenings, and fluoride varnish application.

Baby teeth are essential for chewing food, aid in speech development, guide the permanent teeth into place, and help with jaw and facial formation, Pharr said. Cavities in baby teeth can cause pain and even prevent children from being able to eat, speak, sleep, and learn properly.

Bright Smiles recently conducted screenings for children in the Early Head Start program at Children’s Center locations in Franklin, Suffolk, and Smithfield.

According to the health department, access to preventive dental screenings is of particular concern in Virginia, with only 25 percent of low-income children seeing a dentist before entering kindergarten.

&uot;Right now we are focusing on Early Head Start programs. Eventually we will screen children in Head Start and WIC populations,&uot; said Pharr.

Dr. Elizabeth Bernhard of the Western Tidewater Health District assisted the Bright Smiles staff in conducting the screenings.

Another goal of the Bright Smiles program is training pediatricians and nurses to look for potential dental problems.

&uot;We are trying to train nurses and doctors to stop and look at the teeth for possible pediatric dental referrals,&uot; Pharr said. &uot;We are also teaching doctors to use topical fluoride.&uot;

Fluoride varnish is a temporary protective coating that is painted on teeth to help prevent new cavities and to help stop cavities that have already started, she said. This varnish can be used on babies from the time they have their first teeth.