Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn kicked off “Give Kids A Smile Day” and National Children’s Dental Health Month with the Infant Welfare Society by outlining his “Healthy Smiles Initiative” legislation that calls for mandatory dental screenings for every public and private school student.
“Tooth decay is the number one chronic illness in children and a leading cause of school absences,” said Quinn, noting that national estimates show a staggering 51 million school hours are missed each year due to the effects of dental disease. “Dental decay can be controlled before it leads to problems with eating, speaking and learning.”
Give Kids a Smile Day is a national event spearheaded by the American Dental Association as a way to call attention to the lack of access to dental care for many low-income children. Various events took place across the country in conjunction with the activities at the Infant Welfare Society where disadvantaged children in the Chicago area received free dental exams and cleanings.
“Dental disease is an education issue, public health issue and economic issue facing every Illinoisan and much more needs to be done to battle this growing epidemic,” said Quinn. “There is a desperate need in Illinois to expand access to adequate dental care and to educate children and their families about dental health.”
“It is through dedicated community health centers like the Infant Welfare Society and the initiatives of the American Dental Association that we reach underserved patients to give them the care they so desperately need,” he said.
Quinn’s “Healthy Smiles Initiative” legislation – sponsored by Rep. David Miller, DDS (D – Dolton), the only dentist in Illinois legislature – would require each child in kindergarten, second and sixth grade to have a dental screening in the same way as health exams. Students would have to show confirmation of a dental exam upon starting that school year.
Last year, Quinn greeted Tour de Smile cyclists on their 4,200-mile trans-national bike relay to promote dental health and raise funds for dental programs for economically disadvantaged children. The cyclists passed a toothbrush baton from state to state – from the push-off in California, through 13 states including Illinois, to the finish line in New York – promoting the importance of dental health as a critical component to overall health.
Quinn also mentioned his dental health initiatives including promoting his Healthy Smiles Center website dedicated to dental health, and providing ongoing support of his office to broaden activities such as the Give Kids A Smile Day and Tour de Smile throughout Illinois year after year.
“Dental disease in children is preventable and treatable and can be caught early,” Quinn said, noting that postponing annual dental visits could add hundreds of dollars to the cost of needed dental treatment in the long run.
Quinn was joined at the event by Rep. Miller; Sen. Iris Martinez (D – Chicago); Cheryl Byers, Executive Director of the Infant Welfare Society; Ghassan Souri, DDS, Dental Director of Infant Welfare Society; and various state and city health department officials.
The Infant Welfare Society treats more than 8,000 women and children annually through more than 41,000 service visits. Approximately 90 percent of the patients are Hispanic, residing primarily in West Town, Irving Park, Albany Park, Portage Park, Belmont, Cragin, Avondale, Logan Square and other areas with high concentrations of low-income immigrant families.