As universal health care continues to be a hot topic, the South Carolina Dental Association wants to remind us of the importance of oral health care. A bill has passed a senate subcommittee and full committee and is primed to be introduced to the General Assembly concerning the children of our state and their dental care. Tooth decay is the number one child disease in the country with children missing over 51 million school hours each year because of the illness. Many children do not have dental insurance making it less likely they will visit the dentist compounding the problem. Horry County Senator Raymond Cleary, the only dentist in the Legislature, says the health of the child is what is really important. He says it’s sad when a child cannot get treatment due to the lack of money. “Different parents have different dental levels of education,” said Cleary.
“I see a lot of patients that say, ‘the only time my parents ever took me to a dentist was to have a tooth pulled. I just want to make it better for my kids’. I think that’s what the coordinator helps do. It breaks that cycle and it helps these children to get healthier. It would be silly to have a child walk around where he has double-vision or he can’t see the blackboard. I think it would be the same thing if a child was holding his jaw all of the time because he’s in pain.”
Cleary says the bill would initially be introduced in the four poorest counties of South Carolina, but those counties are yet to be determined. He says that until funds are made available, the program cannot function. Cleary says this will not supersede other priorities of the state. According to him, “right at this stage, it’s only going to be paid for if funds are available. To be honest, at this time, there may be some grant money or some federal money available.
“We both know that from a state standpoint, I don’t see any money becoming available and I have not asked for any money from the state level to fund it and will not ask for any money at the state level to fund this at this time. I do think that our priorities have to be to keep teachers teaching and things like that.”
Approximately 430,000 children in South Carolina live below the poverty level and are high risk for oral disease according to the SCDA.