Oral health is a key indicator of children’s success. When kids experience cavities, it affects their abilities to eat, speak, play, and learn. Left untreated, tooth decay can lead to chronic absences, lower grades, and scores of adverse health and education outcomes. In our state alone, the Arkansas Department of Health found 80% of third-grade students were in need of routine preventative dental care.*

That’s why Excel by Eight (E8) is stepping in to help expand families’ access to these essential services. With a grant from the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, we’re partnering with Curricula Concepts on a Healthy Smiles project in Conway and Independence counties. Michelle Mallett, E8 steering committee member in Conway County, is sharing more about our efforts for National Children’s Dental Health Month:

Why did E8 and Curricula Concepts decide to launch Healthy Smiles?
During our initial data gathering phase, we uncovered chronic dental health issues as key concerns for E8 Communities in Conway and Independence Counties. We knew Curricula Concepts, an E8 partner, had a program in the works to provide training and assistance to child care providers around healthy practices in early childhood. Incorporating oral health was a natural fit.

Who does the initiative serve?
Healthy Smiles is focused on reaching families with children under the age of five without permanent dental homes or established dentists for regular six-month cleanings and checkups. Our goal is to assist these families in obtaining early preventative dental care.

What progress have you made?
We are working with local child care and dental care providers to identify potential ways to connect families with dental homes. This includes sharing easy-to-understand resources and offering hands-on assistance navigating the process. We have developed a network of referral sources and stand ready to help families overcome barriers to reliable access, such as transportation, work schedules, or insurance coverage.

What long-term changes do you hope this project will create?
The hope is children who receive preventative dental care will avoid the pitfalls of dental decay. Poor oral health can cause a plethora of physical ailments, especially in the ear, nose, and throat. Children can miss school due to tooth pain; sinus infections; lack of sleep or proper nutrition; and more. Early treatment helps mitigate children’s oral health-related absences, supporting overall better health and academic performance.

Have additional questions about Healthy Smiles? Share them on our Facebook page.

*According to Arkansas Department of Health’s Arkansas 3rd Grade Basic Screening Survey 2019-2020