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Illinois families need dental care
Letter to the Editor
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Published: 3/16/2009 12:08 AM

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We are facing an oral health care crisis in our state. Illinois has among the lowest funding rates in the nation for government funded dental care. Over the last three decades funding has decreased, dental clinics have closed and the dental care gap has widened. Despite an increase in enrollment for government dental programs, millions of children and adults go without dental care.

Children suffering from toothaches often have trouble focusing in school and may have trouble eating nutritious foods like fresh fruit and vegetables. In some cases tooth decay can be so severe that a child must have all of their teeth pulled, going through the young years of life toothless and ashamed. This causes developmental problems and contributes to low self esteem and unsatisfactory school performance.

For many families, public dental clinics are the primary source of care and increased demand has flooded an already overwhelmed system. Illinois has just one clinic per 8,400 children who rely on government insurance. Families often have to wait several months for an appointment, forcing many into emergency care.

The long term implications are serious and can lead to significantly poorer health as adults. There is an undeniable link between overall health and oral health. Studies show that poor oral health may be linked to heart disease, stroke, preterm childbirth and oral cancer. Illinois dentists provide charitable care to thousands of patients each year, and in February dentists donated treatment for "Give Kids a Smile Day."

But dentists can't solve the problem alone - it's time for the State of Illinois to make funding dental care a priority.

More and more Illinois families are out of work, losing health insurance and feeling the effects of the economic downturn. Children face enough challenges growing up; basic dental care should not be one of them.

Robert Rechner

Executive Director

Illinois State Dental Society