In August and September, 215 of the 1,400 kindergarten through eighth-grade students in Moffat County showed visible signs of decay during routine dental screenings.
Debi Harmon, director of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, said that's a small indication of a growing problem. Each day, she meets children whose lack of dental care constitutes an emergency. It's not uncommon, Harmon said, to see tooth decay that's so excessive that the child is in constant pain and fighting infection.
The problem lies both in education about proper dental care and a growing population of uninsured or underinsured children. Until Northwest Colorado Dental Care opened in August, those children had little, if any, access to dental care. Few dentists on the Western Slope see patients who are covered by Medicaid or have no insurance at all.
It's a national problem, which is why the American Dental Association sponsors "Give Kids a Smile Day" each year.
On Friday, dentists, parents and educators are encouraged to put a special focus on children's oral health -- particularly those without access to routine dental care.
In Colorado, an estimated 4,000 uninsured children from low-income families will receive free dental services from more than 850 dentists, hygienists, dental assistants and dental students.
In Craig, Jerry Thalken, dentist with Northwest Colorado Dental Care, will be doing what he does every day -- providing education and care for underserved children.
According to the Colorado Dental Association, he is the only dentist in Craig participating in Give Kids a Smile Day.
Its unfortunate that he's the only one.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of U.S. children ages 2 to 9 suffer from untreated tooth decay. Eighty percent of tooth decay is now found in just 25 percent of children, primarily those from low-income families.
We understand that doctors are business people as much as restaurant owners and car dealers, and that the services they provide come at some expense to them. We hope that in considering where to spend their dollars in community support, local dentists combine their specific skills and their generosity to help to alleviate a critical local need.
They can't do it alone. They'd need support from the community. We urge Northwest Colorado dentists to partner with the dental coalition to make Give Kids a Smile Day a community-wide event.
Partnerships are critical if a solution is to be found. Even if every dentist in the Yampa Valley offered free dental care to uninsured children Friday, the problem would still continue. A plan would need to be in place for continued treatment of those who need it.
"A one-day event will never be enough," said Gary Cummins, executive director of the Colorado Dental Association.
But, it could be a start.