Students from the Detroit Lions Academy received free dental cleanings, preventive and restorative care Friday, Oct. 20, at Ford Field thanks to a collaboration between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Detroit Lions, TeamSmile and dozens of local oral health clinicians and volunteers.
It’s one of the ways Blue Cross is working to help increase access to dental care in communities. More than one in five children do not receive preventive dental care each year.
“Without regular cleanings, children’s dental problems can go undetected and can continue to get worse – causing pain and difficulty eating. Over time, this can lead to different health conditions and affect a child’s attendance and performance in school. Surprisingly, dental cavities are still the number one chronic childhood disease,” said Dr. Kristi Thomas, associate dental consultant at Blue Cross.
Dental health is closely linked to whole-person health. The mouth-body connection has been closely studied: research shows gum disease can affect other systems in the body – and can lead to chronic conditions in adulthood, including an increased risk for diabetes.
Friday at Ford Field, dentists, hygienists and dental students from metro Detroit gathered to help provide preventive dental care and education to students from the Lions Academy.
Pediatric dentist Dr. Dina Tanbakuchi was among the providers that volunteered her time to provide cleanings to students. She described an interaction she had with a young female student:
“When she sat down in my chair, she was hiding her mouth. She would not smile at me. Once I got a look, I could see her front tooth was broken. She said it has been like that for the past five years and never was able to get it fixed,” Dr. Tanbakuchi said. “We asked her if she would like us to fix it and she was very excited. After we reconstructed her tooth, we gave her a mirror to check it out. She loved her new tooth and her new smile. She was eager to show it off to everyone she talked to. A total change from how she was when she first sat down.”
Healthy smiles are not only important for good physical health, but make a significant difference in a person’s self-esteem and confidence. Students left the event with a connection to a dentist where they can continue to receive dental care in the future.
“This event is an important way for students to be screened for dental issues and to connect them with a dentist in their community where they can build a relationship,” Thomas said.
Blue Cross’ Specialty Benefits team was the presenting sponsor of the event, coordinated by TeamSmile. TeamSmile is a national nonprofit organization that partners with professional sports organizations to bring dental care to children in communities that are underserved. Their events began in 2007, and they target their events to help communities based on social determinants of health.
Blue Cross supports communities with access to dental care in several ways, including a recent charity golf outing supporting the Michigan Dental Association Foundation. Blue Cross also provides dental coverage for Michigan’s Healthy Kids Dental program, available to children on Medicaid under the age of 21.
Safety net clinics across Michigan serving people who are uninsured or underinsured also help to provide critical dental care – as well as medical and behavioral health care – to those who need it. Blue Cross funds safety net clinics every year: in 2023, 50 clinics across the state received grants to help more than 64,000 vulnerable Michigan residents.
Photo credits: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan