LANSING — Thousands of Michigan children will be positioned for better oral health thanks to new legislation signed by Gov. Whitmer today. Michigan health care experts, dental professionals and educators are applauding the state’s elected officials for requiring dental assessments for Michigan kindergartners thanks to Senate Bill 280, which passed the Michigan Legislature with broad bipartisan support.
“This legislation is a big win for Michigan children, who will have better access to dental health care, especially children from low-income families,” said Kim Crabtree, executive director of Smiles on Wheels. “We thank Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for signing this bipartisan bill into law because dental health contributes to better overall health for our children and keeps them in the classroom healthy, pain-free and ready to learn.”
Kindergarten Oral Health Assessments (KOHAs) identify students who may need dental care and help them connect to it. Local health departments have been partnering with schools for decades to provide vision and hearing screenings for school children, and KOHAs will be no different. Oral Health Assessments are a quick, easy and non-invasive way to assess oral health and make a referral to a dentist, if needed.
“Increasing access to oral care through required dental assessments will improve the lives of thousands of children,” said Holli Seabury, EdD, executive director of the Delta Dental Foundation (DDF). “This new law will help improve the health of tens of thousands of Michigan children and help ensure success in school and in life.”
Earlier this year, the DDF granted $1.5 million to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to defray start-up costs associated with KOHA.
Although preventable with good oral hygiene and access to dental care, tooth decay remains the most common chronic childhood disease (five times more common than asthma) and is responsible for 51 million missed school hours nationally each year. In Michigan, almost half of Head Start children suffer from tooth decay, and close to one-third have untreated decay.
“Thanks to Sen. Sam Singh, who sponsored this bill, and the Michigan Legislature, many children across the state will receive dental assessments at no cost to their parents or guardians for the first time,” said Dr. Deborah Brown, chief executive officer at My Community Dental Centers, Inc. “These screenings will be instrumental in discovering oral problems previously undetected and improve overall health.”
More than 67,800 children entering kindergarten do not have critical preventative care and have not had their teeth examined by a dental professional. The consequences can be enormous. Children with advanced tooth decay may have distracting pain, find it hard to sleep at night or have trouble eating foods essential for growth. In its early stages, tooth decay often causes no pain or discomfort and can go unnoticed until it worsens.
“This legislation will be a huge step forward for many Michigan children and their educational experience,” said Chandra Madafferi, Michigan Education Association president and longtime Oakland County teacher. “Dental health impacts children’s overall health and well-being and their ability to focus on their learning. It will have a lasting impact in classrooms across the state, as well as on the confidence of young adults as they strive for future success.”
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SB 280 allows for exceptions for children whose parent or guardian says the requirement violates their personal religious beliefs in a written statement.