The Indian Health Services' stewardship of the oral health of American Indian/Alaska Native children includes holding Give Kids A Smile events that prioritize increased access to care and education to reduce the incidence of caries.
The Indian Health Service's three-year experience of hosting Give Kids A Smile events across the nation is "making a difference," said Rear Adm. Tim Ricks, D.M.D., assistant surgeon general and chief dental officer of the U.S. Public Health Service.
As a result of Give Kids A Smile and other increased efforts that pave the way for access to care, Dr. Ricks said that 1 in 6 American Indian/Alaska Native children between the ages of 2 and 15 has received the benefits of dental sealants, and 1 in 3 American Indian/Alaska Native children between the ages of 1 and 15 has received protective fluoride.
Dr. Ricks pointed out that Give Kids A Smile has been taken to heart by Indian Health Service providers in an email to supporters.
"In 2021, despite the pandemic and the enormous pressures [IHS providers] had on [their] time, and the backlog of patients, 183 IHS and tribal dentists and 588 dental hygienists, assistants and other volunteers still managed to carry out 100 GKAS events, providing oral health education, screenings, preventive and restorative services to 8,457 American Indian/Alaska Native children, valued at $723,534 in services provided," he said.
"In 2022, [we] are planning to reach even more children," he added. "Eighty-two GKAS events in IHS, tribal and urban dental programs are already planned, and [our] goals are to provide almost $700,000 in dental services in one-day events serving over 20,000 American Indian/Alaska Native children with over 750 dental staff participating."
Indian Health Service data has shown that there has been:
- A 5% decrease between 2010 and 2018 in caries in 1-5 year-old American Indian/Alaska Native children- the first such decrease measured in this age group nationally.
- A 14% decrease between 2010 and 2018 in untreated decay rates in 1-5 year-old American Indian/Alaska Native children - the largest decrease ever measured in this short of a time period in this age group.
- A 17% decrease between 1999 and 2017 in caries in the permanent teeth of 6-9 year-old American Indian/Alaska Native children - the first time the IHS has been able to measure such a decrease in this age group.
- A 15% decrease between 1999 and 2017 in untreated decay rates in 6-9 year-old American Indian/Alaska Native children.
- A 10% decrease between 1999 and 2020 in caries in 13-15 year-old American Indian/Alaska Native youth - the first time the IHS has seen this decrease.
Despite this success, American Indian/Alaska Native children and adults continue to suffer disproportionately from dental disease compared to the rest of the U.S., Dr. Ricks noted.
But, he added, through 6.2 million dental services in 2019 and treatment of 525,000 American Indian/Alaska Native dental patients the same year, patients are reaping the benefits of a reported 20% increase in access to dental care since 2000.
The ADA offers resources to all IHS, tribal and urban programs interested in organizing a GKAS event including access to donated dental products and educational materials. In addition, the ADA works with IHS to provide comprehensive summary reports on their GKAS services rendered.
The ADA Give Kids A Smile program would not be possible without the continued generosity of national sponsors Henry Schein and Colgate and support from the ADA Foundation.
For more information about GKAS, visit ADA.org/gkas.