Celebrating 10 years of assuring that children in need receive the dental care they deserve, Minnesota dentists across the state will open their clinic doors and provide free dental care to an estimated 6,000 children on February 3rd and 4th, 2012.
The Minnesota Dental Association is sponsoring the 10th consecutive year of Give Kids a Smile, a unique grassroots program that provides children facing barriers to care with necessary dental treatment from professionals for free.
“We know that the joy and personality of a child is expressed through a smile, but untreated dental problems cause many children to hide their smiles,” said Dr. Michael Zakula, president of the Minnesota Dental Association and a practicing orthodontist in Hibbing, Minnesota. “Sadly, tooth decay remains the number one disease in children, and the barriers to care that caused us to start this program 10 years ago remain.”
Nearly 3,000 dental professionals and interpreters are volunteering at more than 200 locations across the state. The Minnesota Dental Association has reached out to hundreds of schools and community groups to help identify children who may be suffering with untreated dental disease. And the United Way’s 2-1-1 number has become an invaluable link connecting needy families with volunteering dentists.
Patients seeking appointments should be 18 years or younger and accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. People interested in scheduling an appointment can call United Way 211 (just dial 2-1-1), or the statewide toll-free number 1-800-543-7709. To see a list of clinics providing care go to http://www.mndental.org. Information on specific services provided will be outlined when an appointment is scheduled.
Since Give Kids a Smile began, Minnesota dentists have provided free care to nearly 45,000 young children and donated services valued at more than $13.5 million dollars. Volunteers speaking multiple languages have been engaged to eliminate language barriers. Loyal sponsors 3M ESPE Dental Products and HealthPartners sponsor statewide TV and radio ads. And the Minnesota Dental Foundation is also once again accepting grant applications from community clinics and educational programs who are participating in the event to help defray the cost of supplies.
But challenges remain. Dental disease remains more prevalent today than childhood asthma. Tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease, affecting 50% of U.S. first graders. And Minnesota dentists continue to be paid at one of the lowest rates in the nation for treating children on government health programs. A 2010 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that Minnesota dentists are paid only 40% of their actual fee for providing the care, compared to 60% nationally.