State of Illinois

Office of Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn



Friday, August 29, 2003



(834 words)


The days are getting shorter. The neighborhood beaches and swimming pools are emptying. The lemonade stands are closing shop. It's that time of year again - the school bell is ringing and it is time to get the kids ready for a new school year.

Have your children sharpened their pencils and packed their backpacks? Most importantly, have your children visited the dentist for a checkup? That's right. A trip to the dentist is crucial and should be an essential step in getting the kids prepared for school.

I was shocked to learn that tooth decay is now the number one chronic illness in children and toothaches are a leading cause of school absenteeism. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General estimates a staggering 51 million school hours are missed each year due to the effects of dental disease. Sadly, 25 percent of all children have never seen a dentist before entering kindergarten.

Recently, I read the "2003 National Grading Project" by Oral Health America, the nation's premier independent organization devoted to dental health. The "report card" analyzed many factors that contribute to dental health in categories such as prevention, access, infrastructure, health status and policies. The State of Illinois earned an overall grade of C+, but earned failing or below average grades in key categories such as dental care access and youth tobacco use.

Granted, we have made great strides in the past. The Illinois Fluoridation Statute was enacted in 1967 requiring all community water systems to adjust their fluoride to optimal levels. Today, Illinois is one of only 12 states with a mandatory fluoridation law.

Additionally, there are school-based programs in Illinois that offer dental sealants that are applied to the surface of molars to ward off cavities in young teeth. There is even growing public awareness of positive dental behaviors. But what we're doing is not enough because 38 percent of six- to eight-year-olds in Illinois have untreated tooth decay.

Dental disease in Illinois students has reached epidemic proportions. We need to ensure that systems are in place to guarantee good dental health so that our young people can thrive in the classrooms. This is an education issue, public health issue and economic issue facing every Illinoisan and much more needs to be done.

That is why I have made dental health a top priority and will strongly urge the General Assembly to pass a mandatory school dental screenings bill in the upcoming legislative session.

Our policy would require each child to have a dental screening in the same way as health exams for kindergarten, fifth and ninth grade. Students would have to show proof of certain immunizations and tests (confirmation of a dental exam) upon starting that school year.

Dental disease in children is preventable and treatable and can be caught early. Did you know that postponing annual dental visits could add hundreds of dollars to the cost of needed dental treatment in the long run? Dental decay can be controlled before it leads to problems with eating, speaking, concentrating and learning. How can a child succeed in school with a chronic untreated toothache?

In addition to pushing for tougher dental health care legislation, I have added a dental component to my website at that is dedicated to serve as a dental health resource to families across Illinois. Parents can find help locating a dental professional, teenagers can see the grisly effects of using chewing tobacco and children can participate in learning activities that promote good dental hygiene.

Also, I will provide the ongoing support of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor for dental health awareness campaigns such as the Tour de Smile national bike relay. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Tour de Smile cyclists as they crossed through Illinois as part of their 4,200-mile journey.

A Tour de Smile baton is being passed across the nation similar to the passing of the Olympic torch. The Tour de Smile cyclists have been passing the baton from state to state to raise awareness and funds for dental programs for economically disadvantaged children. The riders pushed off the tour in California on July 11, and after riding through 13 states, they will cross the finish line in New York on September 14.

The cyclists of the Tour de Smile are pedaling for the common good - in the spirit of the 1950s Mothers March Against Polio and recent grassroots programs to prevent youth smoking. Two years ago this month, I walked across Illinois from the Mississippi River to the shores of Lake Michigan to promote the Bernardin Amendment calling for decent health care for everyone.

Through advocacy and education, we can improve our state's mediocre report card and combat dental disease to help improve the dental health of Illinois' children. So if your kids haven't been to the dentist lately, make it part of their back-to-school routine. It will save you money over the long run and instill a behavior pattern in your children that will serve them for life.




Pat Quinn

Illinois Lieutenant Governor