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Schools must do best for kids, even when the parents can’t

While we press teachers to do better in educating our children and preparing them for the real world, Ohioans also are expecting schools to fill nearly every other role for some kids, too. Schools are their safe haven, the place where they will be fed — maybe even get the shoes or warm coats they need, the place where they might be able to speak with a counselor, visit the school nurse or go back to the locker rooms for a much-needed shower.

Advocates are pushing for schools — especially those in poorer and rural communities — to be a place where those students can receive dental care, as well.

“What we’re seeing every day in the hospital is that these children at young ages have dental disease,” Dr. Kim Hammersmith told the Ohio Capital Journal. “We have had a 2-year-old coming in with 10 to 15 cavities.”

Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s school-based dental program brings, with parental consent, routine cleanings, exams, X-rays, sealants and fluoride treatments, even fillings and crowns, to schools. Ohio Department of Health data from 2017 showed seven of the 11 counties in which children had the worst oral health were in Appalachia: Coshocton, Carroll, Highland, Brown, Pike, Scioto and Meigs.

“Twenty percent of the kids have 80% of the problems,” Hammersmith told the Capital Journal.

But why? A Pew Charitable Trusts study concluded “A number of factors contribute to the lower levels of preventive care that children in low-income, minority and rural households receive, including barriers to transportation, a scarcity of dental providers in many communities and cost.” Therefore, school-based dental programs “provide a critical service to at-risk children,” Pew said.

It is becoming a familiar theme, but there is a shortage of both funding and trained pediatric dentists to carry out the work, if schools are seeking to include dental care in their growing list of services to children.

But it is important districts work toward making it happen.

“They’re able to learn, they’re able to sleep, they’re able to grow, and do all the things they should be able to, to be a kid and enjoy their childhood,” Hammersmith said.

It does leave one piece of the puzzle untouched, of course. Parental / cultural buy-in may be difficult to obtain. Schools must do their best (as we know most try so hard to do), anyway. Our youngest generations are counting on it.

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