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TN Dentists: Kids’ Oral Hygiene Helps Develop Healthy Habits

February marks National Children’s Dental Health Month and Tennessee health officials want to raise awareness about the importance of good oral hygiene in kids.

In collaboration with state Medicaid program TennCare, the Tennessee Department of Health offers sealants, a thin coating to protect teeth from cavities, in schools where 50% or more of the students receive free and reduced-price lunch.

Dr. Suzanne Hayes, interim state dental director of the Tennessee Department of Health, said there is a misconception among many parents baby teeth are not important because kids eventually lose them.

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She said in the long-term, poor dental health can affect a child’s development.

“Those baby teeth actually hold the space so that those permanent teeth can come into proper alignment,” Hayes explained. “It certainly helps children eat, which is, as they’re growing, they need that nutritional value they can get. It affects speech, too.”

Hayes pointed out sealants can last for years and can result in an 80% reduction in tooth decay. The state health department has administered 61,000 sealants this year alone.

Hayes emphasized it is important for children to visit the dentist twice a year. She noted there are coverage opportunities for families who are uninsured or underinsured, such as TennCare and CoverKids, the state children’s health insurance program.

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“We provide dental services based on a sliding-fee scale statewide,” Hayes explained. “So even without that coverage, we are more than willing to see any child, whether they have dental coverage or not. And then certainly TennCare and CoverKids are options as well that people should look into.”

According to a recent report from the Tennessee Justice Center, more than one million adults in the state have no access to dental coverage, and only about half of kids enrolled in its Medicaid program receive dental care.

Residents can find a list of dental offices and clinics statewide on the health department’s website.

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