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Michigan lawmakers propose oral health screenings in public elementary schools

Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Michigan public schools have offered routine vision and hearing exams for nearly 50 years — now, lawmakers want to offer dental exams too.

The bills would provide kindergartners and first graders across the state with professional oral health screening at school.

Dentists and dental hygienists would examine the teeth and gums of children without routine dental care. If health conditions are detected, students' families would be provided with referrals for treatment in their community.

Supporters say that would help detect and address oral health concerns among young children.

"You want to have kids have the set of teeth that they have once they get to be adults to last them a lifetime. So we want to start good habits. But I think we need more resources to get those habits," said Ellen Sugrue Hyman, the executive director of the Michigan Oral Health Coalition. "Even myself, when my daughter was young sometimes it was a battle I didn't want to fight, to brush the teeth."

Hyman said when the state piloted a similar program before, officials found high rates of tooth decay in children.

"Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood. It's five times more common than asthma. And it's kind of like a silent disease, because tooth decay has to be really bad before you feel the pain or feel the discomfort," said Hyman.

Hyman emphasized that preventative care is especially important for children because they may not be able to articulate that they are in pain before tooth decay sets in.

She said she hopes the bills would make dental care more accessible by catching problems early, and connecting families with affordable resources, like Healthy Kids Dental, in their area.

Priya Vijayakumar started her Newsroom Internship in January 2023. She is interested in science/health reporting and making the facts more accessible to all!
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