Rear Adm. Ricks providing a dental screening at Choctaw Middle School in Mississippi during a Give Kids A Smile event on February 7, 2020.
During National Children’s Dental Health Month, the IHS Division of Oral Health hosted a virtual 2021 national kickoff on February 17 to celebrate the American Dental Association’s annual Give Kids A Smile Program . This is the second year the IHS has teamed up with the ADA to promote GKAS, which provides underserved children with free oral health care.
In 2020, there were 113 events held at IHS, tribal, and IHS-funded urban Indian dental programs across the country, providing free preventive, educational, and restorative services to 14,189 children and producing more than $700,000 in services in single-day events. A third of all of our IHS, tribal, and urban dental programs participated, including 268 dentists and 745 other dental staff.
Despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, a total of 88 dental programs are planning GKAS events this year. Unlike last year, where most of the events were only one day in length during the first week of February, programs will have until June 30 this year to conduct their events. This 5-month time span gives the dental teams the option to plan multiple smaller scale events that follow CDC infection control guidelines , which include social distancing, wearing masks, and limiting aerosol generating procedures.
By participating in GKAS on a national scale, the IHS Division of Oral Health aims to:
- Change the public perception of dental care that is provided in our system.
- Help in recruitment of dentists and other oral health professionals in IHS and tribal dental programs.
- Publicize the successes of IHS, tribal, and urban dental programs in reducing dental disease in children across all age groups.
- Improve access to dental care and preventive services for American Indian and Alaska Native children.
An important point from these goals is that Indian health system dental programs are contributing to improvements in the oral health of Native children. In 2020, the IHS released its eighth oral health survey report [PDF] in the past decade. For the first time ever recorded in the 65-year history of the Indian Health Service, we saw a dramatic reduction in tooth decay in American Indian and Alaska Native adolescents, including a 10 percent reduction in tooth decay experience and a 30 percent reduction in untreated tooth decay since 1999.
These significant results follow the 2019 report [PDF] that showed a 5 percent reduction in early childhood caries and a 14 percent reduction in untreated decay among 1 to 5 year-old children, the first time we’ve ever seen a reduction in early childhood caries. Three years ago [PDF], we saw similar reductions in 6 to 9 year-old American Indian and Alaska Native children, with a 30 percent reduction in tooth decay experience and a 20 percent reduction in untreated tooth decay.
These results would not have happened if our IHS, tribal, and urban oral health professionals had not prioritized prevention of tooth decay in their everyday work. The 2021 Give Kids A Smile campaign is yet another opportunity for all of us to continue working together to prioritize prevention of dental disease in children through improving access to dental care and providing preventive services.
Please contact IHS Oral Health Promotion Disease Prevention Consultants Rear Adm. Tim Ricks or Cmdr. Nathan Mork for additional details on participating in GKAS events across the Indian health system.