ForsythKids – Bringing Oral Healthcare to Massachusetts’ Children
An apple a day keeps the dentist away -- while the saying has been the stuff of children’s rhymes for decades, unfortunately, no, an apple a day is not going to keep the dentist – or the doctor – away. Preventative dental care and education about good oral hygiene – especially at a young age -- is the only strategy that keeps teeth and gums healthy. Sadly, dental care is not covered in many healthcare plans, and its expense leads many children to go without treatment.
Initially called The Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children, The Forsyth Institute was founded in Boston in 1910 to serve the oral health needs of Boston’s disadvantaged children. Today, ForsythKids continues to deliver on this mission by working with schools and communities to ensure that at-risk children and their families receive dental care.
Dental caries (cavities) are the most common childhood disease, and they occur disproportionally in low-income and minority children (Dye et al. 2012). Reports repeatedly show that children living in poverty have about five times more untreated dental decay than children from higher income families.
This disparity in poor oral health further stacks the deck against this already vulnerable population, as an estimated 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental-related illness. Additionally, it is well established that oral health is an integral component of children’s overall health and well-being, and that untreated dental disease can lead to pain, lack of attention in the classroom, problems with eating and speaking, low self-esteem, and long-term health consequences.
To address the crisis of dental disease, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry now recommends children be seen by a dentist at age one, or when the first tooth comes in – whichever comes first. However, for Massachusetts’s 800,000 low-income residents, finding – and paying for -- a dentist is not so easy.
School-Based Oral Health with ForsythKids
What better way to reach out to young children and educate them about oral hygiene than in a school setting? Based on the premise that schools and community centers provide an ideal opportunity to connect with children and their families, ForsythKids actively works with schools, day care centers, neighborhood facilities, summer camps and public events. Participating students receive on-site dental examinations, oral health education, preventative services, including dental cleanings, application of fluoride varnish and sealants to prevent decay, and temporary fillings if needed.
At the Care Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts, ForsythKids provides oral health care for young mothers finishing high school along with their babies and toddlers in the Center’s day care program. It’s an ideal setting to discuss what dental developments parents can expect to see as their children grow, and an opportunity to ensure that old wives’ tales – like putting a baby to bed with a bottle – don’t continue to harm the next generation.
As the head of ForsythKids, Dr. Kerry Maguire is leading this important charge to connect Forsyth’s past with its future endeavors. The program strives to provide care where it’s desperately needed and to educate the next generation about the importance of oral health, as well as explore developing models that others may adopt.
Beyond Oral Health…
Not only does Maguire and the ForsythKids team focus on bringing better oral health to children, but The Forsyth Institute also works to educate the community about the importance of scientific research. The Educational Outreach Program (EOP) provides opportunities for Boston Public High School students from socio-economic backgrounds or population groups under-represented in the sciences to work side-by-side in the laboratory with world-renowned scientists engaged in cutting-edge research. Through the program, students can participate in an eight-week paid summer internship, with the option to continue working on their projects during the academic year. For these students, the Program is often not only their first "real" job, but also may be their initial step toward a future career in research – maybe in oral health!
We depended on philanthropy for the continued operation of ForsythKids. We are very grateful to our many corporate, foundation, government and individual supporters.
By Kerry Maguire, Program Director, Forsyth Kids