Dentists across the country, including New Hampshire, will be offering free services to low-income children this week, including dental examinations, cleanings, fluoride treatment, and sealants.

The American Dental Association about a decade ago started the event, in order to offer services to children who did not have regular access to dental care and to raise awareness about the importance of dental health, according to James Williamson, the executive director of the New Hampshire Dental Society. He called it both a service opportunity and a chance to help those in need.

In February, the society and its dentists visit schools to talk about the importance of oral health, how to properly brush, good nutrition, “and all the things that lead to good oral health care,” Williamson said. Education opportunities like this, as well as the sealant programs offered in Concord, Manchester, and other communities, have helped prevent a lot of problems down the road, he said. The Concord Sealant Coalition, a group of dentists that offer the treatments, go into the Concord School District and screen kids at certain ages each year and provide the sealants.

During the last few years, the society has been trying to increase the number of participating dentists. Williamson said some groups get together in Concord at one office and after determining that there are kids who are in need, each of the dentists will take the kids into their offices and provide the treatment, he said.

Feb. 3, he said, is really about kids. Williams said the society was beginning to stress the need for children to come in during their first year to have their teeth checked out. He said that old adage that, “they’re only baby teeth, they don’t matter,” was a false one, adding that was early visits in the first three years can detect problems early. Dentists have also reached out the family practitioners to stress the need for early oral health care.

Williamson said the goal was to eventually get to 100 percent coverage for New Hampshire residents although he readily admitted that he didn’t know if that was possible or not. He said there were “many barriers,” including financial ones, to good dental health care, adding that the resources were there. Williamson said that many children don’t qualify for assistance and their parents can’t afford dental care.

Williamson said the society has tried to get funding into the state budget for children and adults but it often gets shifted around to other things.

According to officials, more than 9,000 dentists and 28,000 volunteers participated last year, offering services to nearly 400,000 children in the United States.

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