A trip to the dentist, for people who are fortunate enough to have a “dental home,” is a twice-a-year tradition that might not always be comfortable, but is critically important to our health. Going to the dentist regularly doesn’t just mean a polished smile; it could save your life.

If something goes wrong with your teeth and it isn’t addressed, it can be the start of a whole series of problems – or it could be a warning that there’s another health problem somewhere else in your body. Dental disease is linked to a number of serious health issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, preterm/low-birth-weight babies and many others.

The good news is that dental disease and the other health problems that often come with it can be prevented or seriously reduced through regular checkups and preventive services like fluoride varnish and sealants, and early treatment of cavities to prevent drilling.

The bad news is that at least 30,000 kids in Cumberland County are not getting any preventive oral health care at all. They don’t have a “dental home,” meaning a provider they go to for regular checkups and comprehensive dental care. And depending on what insurance families have or their ability to pay out-of-pocket, there are very few dental offices taking new patients. It’s not uncommon for waitlists to be one to two years. In that time, especially in the small teeth of young kids, cavities can progress to full-blown infections, tooth extractions and the need for complex restorative care.

The new Cumberland County Community Health Improvement Plan identified strong preventive oral health care as a priority for our region, and I’m pleased to announce that Cumberland County’s Public Health Department has partnered with the Children’s Oral Health Network of Maine to close this gap. The County Commissioners have approved $650,000 in Federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to launch a new initiative, which will run for four years and aims to ensure all young people across Cumberland County have access to preventive oral health services.

The new oral health care project will build a collaborative structure for providers across the region to ensure that every public school student in the county has access to regular preventive dental care through mobile oral health services delivered at their school. The program will ensure that oral health services are accessible to all students – especially students with MaineCare or no dental insurance, who may have a hard time finding a dental home. Parents have indicated that routine preventive care at school will also be a big help for students who have disabilities, who struggle with anxiety around medical settings, whose parents have inflexible work schedules, or who face transportation challenges.


Our goal is to create a program that improves oral care for kids across the county and, importantly, is built to last and be sustainable. The ARPA funds are a one-time opportunity, but the need will continue indefinitely. So the county and Children’s Oral Health Network have worked to bring together partners who will ensure that the work continues for years to come.

Core partners include Mainely Teeth, Greater Portland Health, Partnerships for Health and the Maine CDC/School Oral Health Program. This effort is also connected to the Greater Portland Oral Health Equity Collaborative.

We’re excited to work on this really important project for kids in Cumberland County. It’s one of the many ways that the county’s new public health department is coordinating regional service providers, nonprofits, government officers and community leaders in order to improve public health outcomes across the county, especially for those who need them the most.

Neil Jamieson is the chairperson of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, representing District 1 with Baldwin, Bridgton, Gorham, Scarborough, Sebago and Standish.

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