Letter: Support state-funded student dental screening
Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature are supporting common-sense public policy — House Bill 4223 — that would improve the health of Michigan children and, at the same time, their ability to succeed in the classroom.
For about 60 years Michigan has required hearing and vision tests for children entering kindergarten.
Like hearing and vision problems, dental health issues also impede a child’s ability to learn and can have long-lasting effects on overall health.
Under HB 4223, children starting kindergarten in Michigan would have a dental screening in addition to the hearing and vision checks that have been required for decades. The bipartisan bill is sponsored by 14 Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and is supported by a broad coalition of dentists, dental hygienists, public health leaders, children’s health advocates and public education organizations.
The legislation is needed because children with dental pain can have trouble speaking clearly, eating and learning. Here are some facts about how dental problems affect children in school:
• Tooth decay is the # 1 most common chronic childhood disease in the United States (five times more common than asthma).
• By third grade, more than half of Michigan children have experienced dental disease. Among the third graders facing oral health issues, half go untreated.
• Children across the nation miss 51 million hours of school per year due to oral health issues, many of which are preventable.
• 37% of children ages 6-9 have cavities, but the percentage almost doubles, to 69%, for children living in poverty.
• Multiple studies found that children with dental pain are significantly more likely to sleep poorly, miss school and are less likely to complete their required homework.
• Kids who have experienced recent oral health pain are four times more likely to have lower grade-point averages than their counterparts who have not.
Under HB 4223, dental hygienists or dentists would provide dental screenings to an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 new kindergartners in Michigan each year without dental insurance. The program would be managed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and local health agencies. The independent and nonpartisan House and Senate Fiscal agencies estimate the program’s annual cost at between $1.7 million and $2.9 million. Assessments for most children on Medicaid will be covered by the state’s Healthy Kids Dental program, which covers nearly 1 million low-income children in all 83 counties.
We urge residents to contact their state legislators in support of this important legislation.
State Rep. Scott VanSingel, R-Grant
State Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit