Project Educates Children on Oral Healthcare

Tahira Lindsay | 7/8/2009, 11:24 p.m.

The Deamonte Driver Dental Project of the Robert T. Freeman Dental Foundation hosted its first Oral Health Symposium for Children at the Prince George€s County Hospital Center in Cheverly, Md. The daylong seminar, held Fri., June 19, focused on the state of oral health and the lack of access to preventative oral healthcare among children in Prince George€s County and surrounding areas.

"I heard about the [Deamonte Driver Dental] project through my professor and I was interested in finding out more about them and what they did,€ said attendee Nicole Allen, Ph.D student at Morgan State University.

€The message of the project really resonated with me in terms of how this local project ties into the whole topic of Universal Healthcare. Oral health is an intricate part of the healthcare discussion, but its constantly being left out."

The symposium, which was attended by over 130 residents, featured local dentists and oral healthcare advocates who moderated workshops and led presentations on the community€s role in being an advocate for oral health, the medical necessity of preventative dental health and the current state of oral heath within healthcare reform.

€More than 130 million adults and children lack any form of dental insurance,€ said Dr. Hazel J. Harper, co-founder and director of the Deamonte Driver Dental Project and presenter at the symposium.

€When you consider the fact that tooth decay is a preventable disease, it€s hard to imagine that tooth decay is the number one chronic disease among children.€

Deamonte Driver, after whom the project was named, was a 12-year-old Prince George€s County student who died of a brain infection caused by bacteria from tooth decay in February 2007. His Medicaid coverage lapsed, and he was unable to find a dentist that could provide preventative treatments to stop the infection.

His death sent shockwaves throughout the county, moving Black dentists Dr. Harper and Dr. Belinda Carver-Taylor to rally with 50 other local dentists to create The Deamonte Driver Dental Project, a grassroots program that aims to €stamp out the epidemic of tooth decay by increasing access and providing early intervention.€

"Healthcare costs are skyrocketing and that provides room for more and more oral, mental health grass roots organizations to take to the needs of the community,€ Allen said. €I think that the Deamonte Driver Dental Project will rectify some of those issues that are otherwise looked over by larger organizations."

The project, founded in November 2008, is school-based and focuses on providing dental care for underserved children from low-income families in Prince George€s County. The program has already targeted nine Prince George€s County elementary schools, representing 2,000 students. In February, dentists from the project went to Seat Pleasant Elementary School in Seat Pleasant, Md. to screen the oral health of 170 children. After the screening, the dentists found that 32 children at Seat Pleasant Elementary required emergency services for problems like abscesses, acute gum disease and teeth rotted down to the nerve centers.

€Children who are uninsured, across all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic subgroups, have rates of unmet dental needs that are between three and four times those of their peers who are covered by any form of insurance,€ Harper said.

Harper said parents need to dictate healthy habits for children and reinforce rules of healthy teeth management everyday.

€Brush teeth at least twice a day, in the morning and at bedtime. Eat healthy foods and avoid sugar and candy as a treat. Parents should read food labels to determine which foods, liquids and solids have too much sugar.€