If any group understands how hard Halloween is on teeth, it is dentists. Yet, a survey by the American Dental Association discovered that 76 percent of them hand out candy on October 31. Turns out, even professionals aren’t immune to a kid in a Wonder Woman costume.
For children who have access to regular dental care, overdoing the candy once a year isn’t a terrible thing. But nearly 19 percent of children ages 5 to 19 have untreated tooth decay. In fact, one-third of Americans don’t regularly visit the dentist, even though oral hygiene is crucial to overall health.
One solution is community schools that, aside from offering a well-rounded education, promote and provide dental care and other support for students. These schools help create the environment for learning; after all, students can’t concentrate, participate in class, or absorb new ideas when they’re in pain.
You may be asking: Aren’t there other, better ways for students to get regular dental care? What keeps many students out of the chair is the difficulty of finding a nearby dentist, the cost, and navigating government assistance programs.
Medicaid provides dental benefits in some cases to eligible families, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can help children up to age 19. But locating a dentist who accepts Medicaid is tough, and CHIP’s dental coverage varies across the states. On top of that, Congress has yet to reauthorize CHIP—something our political leaders should be ashamed of and must rectify now. (Please urge Congress to renew this program, which covers 9 million children.)
I visited a community school in Minnesota, Brooklyn Center Arts and IB Community High School, that actually has a school dentist, a school optometrist, and an entire health resource center that offers free or low-cost services, including hearing and vision screening.
The school also has an amazing array of partnerships with social service providers. Before- and after-care programs are available, as is a college and career readiness center. The parent coordinator makes sure families have the support they need to help their kids be successful.
Community schools provide a holistic strategy for school transformation and recognize that our students are impacted by what happens both inside and outside the classroom. They focus on strong and proven curriculum and high-quality teaching, a nurturing school climate, including positive behavioral practices, and meaningful family and community partnerships with the school and staff to support academics.
Bringing together academics, health care, social services, and community engagement helps improve student learning and also creates stronger families and healthier communities. This is particularly important at a time when more than 50 percent of students in public schools are from low-income families.
We want to surround students with all the support they need to become curious, creative, lifelong learners who discover what they’re passionate about and develop the confidence to pursue those passions.
On Halloween, however, it’s the pursuit of candy that drives many students. If we’re giving it out, dentists say chocolate is best; it’s the easiest to get off your teeth (unless it’s encased in something super sticky). Dark chocolate is best of all; it has less sugar than milk chocolate.
Want to participate in Halloween without dispensing any sweet treats at all? Opt for brand new, wrapped toothbrushes and unopened floss. You may not be voted the most popular person on your street. But I bet you’ll get points for bravery, and the dentists at community schools will thank you.