Five years ago a young Prince George's County boy died after bacteria from a toothache infected his brain. The tragedy put a spotlight on the importance of oral hygiene and accessibility to dental care.
Deamonte Driver would have been 17 this year but his life was cut short after complications from tooth decay and Medicade coverage.
In honor of Driver and National Children's Dental Health month, Maryland lawmakers, health care professionals and community members made a commitment to improve dental services so that all kids and their families have something to smile about.
"Deamonte Driver lost his life because we did not have what we should in this country," said Senator Ben Cardin.
Since Driver's death, progress has been made in Maryland in addressing the lack of dental care for children.
"The Governor and I put into our budget $14 million to increase the reimbursement rate for dentists in Medicaid," said Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.
In addition, local dentists sprang into action, launching the Deamonte Driver Dental Project, treating thousands of uninsured and under-insured kids since 2008 with help from community partners.
Dental care has reached a new level in Prince George's County, making it more accessible to some of the youngest residents. Once a year, hundreds of "head start" students get free dental screenings.
Maryland received an "A" in 2011 on the Pew Charitable Trust's Children's Dental Health Report Card, noting an improvement in 2012 with 64 percent of children receiving Medicade for dental services versus 44 percent in 2005.