The Scoop On AB 1433
What is AB 1433? It is the new law in California that began January 1, 2007 requiring children to have an oral assessment, oral screening, or dental check-up by May 31st of their first year of enrollment in a public school by a licensed dentist, hygienist, or registered dental assistant with supervision. Dental evaluations or check-up exams that occurred within the 12 months prior to beginning school will also meet this requirement. It is considered to be a landmark piece of legislation because children are already required to have medical evaluations (physicals and immunizations), and now they must have dental evaluations as well, in an effort for children to have a healthy start in school. California is not the first state to implement this law: Illinois, Georgia, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia already have this regulation.
What many parents do not realize is how important baby teeth are. There is the misconception that baby teeth fall out anyway, so treatment for decayed primary teeth is not considered necessary. Many parents do not recognize that severely decayed primary teeth can hurt. When a child is in pain, they do not sleep well, or eat well; consequently, they are unable to focus and learn at their full potential. When children have cavities, especially in the front of their mouth, they stop smiling. Children need healthy teeth to be able to eat properly for growth and development, to speak correctly, smile, and feel good about themselves.
The American Dental Association has confirmed that tooth decay is a disease caused from bacteria in the mouth. It does not go away by itself. If left untreated, it can cause infection, which also does not heal without treatment. This progressive infection can develop severely enough to require emergency room treatment or hospitalization, and the adult teeth may be permanently damaged. In extreme cases, it can be fatal (to read an article about this, Google “For Want of a Dentist” in the Washington Post).
The objective of this law is not to punish parents for not having their children’s dental needs met. In fact, it is intended to raise awareness of the importance of children’s oral health and its relationship to their overall health and readiness to learn for parents and teachers. Secondly, it also hopes to connect children with dental professionals who can care for their oral health and establish a dental home for the child. Since the law’s inception, the Kern County Children’s Dental Health Network has seen a significant increase in the number of children who have seen a dentist before entering kindergarten. A third goal is to gain information that will help to identify the barriers to care (such as lack of insurance, lack of transportation, lack of available dentists, etc.); and with this information, hope to be better able to assist communities in meeting their children’s oral health needs.
So what exactly is an oral health evaluation, and how do you get one? An oral health evaluation is a basic, visual oral screening performed by a dentist, hygienist, or dental assistant with supervision. It is not a thorough examination, and it does not include x-rays. If your child has seen a dentist and has had a check-up within 12 months before starting kindergarten, have your dentist fill out the required form. If you plan on taking your child to a dentist before May 31 of the first year of school, you can have your dentist fill out the form at the time of your initial exam appointment. If you have not established a dental home for your child and do not know who to call, ask for referrals from friends and family. Or call your local dental society listed in the phone book. Both the ADA and the CDA are encouraging local dentists to perform dental evaluations for children entering kindergarten (or first grade) for the first time for free. (Check to make sure when you call!) For residents of Kern County you can call 661-377-0328. Some communities have special events, health fairs, etc. where local dental health care professionals screen the children and sign off the oral health assessment forms, so check your local newspapers for events.
If you have had an oral assessment form signed off by a health care professional who marked your form “No obvious problems”, please remember that the screening is not a thorough exam. It just means that your child’s teeth appear to be visually healthy. It is strongly recommended that your child be seen by a dentist and have a regular dental examination, including x-rays as needed, with subsequent regular 6-month check-ups. Although tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease, and 5-8 times more common than asthma, it is also the most preventable disease.
Remember, prevention is key. One of the best ways to prevent tooth decay is with regular check-ups, cleanings, and fluoride treatments with a dentist. Choose healthy foods for your child, help him/her to brush their teeth at least twice a day for two minutes with a toothpaste containing fluoride, and limit sugary snacks and sweets. After all, doesn’t every child deserve to have the best health possible to be ready to succeed in school?
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