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Maryland launches oral health literacy campaign

April 23, 2012

By Stacie Crozier, ADA News staff

Baltimore—Taking another step toward improving children’s dental health in Maryland, the Maryland Dental Action Coalition and the state Office of Oral Health have launched an oral health literacy program directed toward pregnant women and parents of children age 6 and younger.

Eventful day: Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, above left, holds Marcus Saxby at the podium as Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Elijah Cummings (seated) prepare to speak at the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids event. Photo by Max Franz

The Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids campaign was launched March 23 at The Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry, attended by dental leaders, state and national policymakers and others. Volunteer dental professionals provided free dental screenings to preschoolers from Union Baptist Head Start daycare and free oral health education materials were distributed to everyone who attended the event.

Speakers at the launch event included Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown; U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; and Dr. Harry Goodman, director, Office of Oral Health, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In addition, Baltimore mother Vanessa Pearl spoke on how having access to free dental screenings for her son at a local preschool for homeless children was life-changing. Ms. Pearl said she learned her 4-year-old son Marcus Saxby had several cavities that, if left untreated, may have threatened his health. “It’s hard to take your kids to the dentist when you have limited resources,” said Ms. Pearl. “But with programs like these, you can keep your child healthy and get him the care that he needs.”

The Maryland Dental Action Coalition, a 501(c) 3 organization born as a direct result of the death of Deamonte Driver in 2007, developed the campaign with Maryland’s Office of Oral Health, said Frank McLaughlin, Maryland State Dental Association executive director.

“March 23 was a great day for a great program,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “More than 150 invited guests gathered at the National Museum of Dentistry to hear Lt. Gov. Brown, Sen. Cardin and Rep. Cummings sing the praises of the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids Campaign.”

Brushing up on skills: Marcus Saxby practices his brushing technique at the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry March 23. Photo by Max Franz 
“In 2007, 12-year-old Deamonte Driver tragically died from an untreated tooth infection,” said Lt. Gov. Brown, who also serves as chair of the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council. “Since then, Maryland has been committed to improving pediatric oral health care for all children especially those who are underserved. Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids is one more important resource to help inform families in need about potentially life-saving dental care.”

“There can be no health without oral health care and this new program will provide resources to help parents better understand how to care for their children’s dental needs, including locating dentists who accept Medicaid,” said Sen. Cardin. “It is one way that we’re working to ensure that all children have access to oral health care. We must make sure that what happened to Deamonte Driver never happens again.”

“Both federal and state leaders have worked together to ensure that Deamonte Driver’s death would not be in vain,” said Rep. Cummings. “Through the involvement of all of these stakeholders, I believe this campaign will help to prevent oral disease and educate the public about how to best access care. I am proud to support the campaign.”

“We need to do a better job communicating to parents about how important oral health is to overall health,” said Dr. Goodman. “All too often, families don’t place a lot of emphasis on oral health, unless there’s an emergency. They also do not realize that they should start bringing their kids in to see a dentist by no later than their first birthday. That surprises a lot of people, but tooth decay is an infectious, yet preventable disease that often starts during infancy.”

Maryland is considered a national leader in addressing children’s dental health needs. In May 2011, it was the only state to meet seven of eight policy benchmarks for children’s dental health policies ranked by a Pew Center on the States report card. But dental leaders and policymakers say there’s still a lot more work to be done to improve children’s dental health.

Dr. Romaine

“In Maryland, less than two thirds of those children enrolled in the Maryland Healthy Smiles Program actually go to the dentist,” said Dr. Diane Romaine, Maryland State Dental Association president. “Though Maryland was recognized by the Pew Foundation as ranking first in the country in access to children’s dental care, two thirds is not good enough. We want to do better and believe the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids oral health literacy program will enable us to do that.”

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids will reach out to parents and caregivers in Maryland through community organizations such as federally qualified health centers; local health departments; Women, Infants and Children programs; Head Start; television, radio, online and public transit ads.

“By engaging and creating culture change in families through the program, we hope to better develop an environment of oral health at home,” said Dr. Romaine. “The program will reach them at home through newspapers, television, radio and social media.”

The campaign website,, offers detailed information and tips for families and a free telephone hotline (1-855-45-TEETH), available in English and Spanish, for parents who have oral health questions or need help finding a dentist that accepts Medicaid. An educational brochure is available on the website and at community centers and health care facilities around the state.