Dental disease is at “epidemic” levels among California children, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and low-income children are disproportionately affected. They are 12 times more likely to miss school because of dental problems than children from higher-income families, according to a 2008 report by the Healthy States Initiative, a coalition sponsored by the Council of State Governments to study state health problems. As California educators struggle to boost student achievement across economic lines, the teeth of poor children are holding them back. Hundreds of thousands of low-income children suffering from dental disease, some with teeth rotted to the gum line, are presenting California school districts with a widespread public health problem. Increasingly, dental health advocates are looking to schools to help solve the crisis. Several school districts, including Oakland Unified, are running innovative programs to provide dental care at no cost to students. Third-party insurers are billed whenever possible, but insurance is not a prerequisite for treatment according to a recent report in the Contra Costa Times.
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