June 5th through the 11th is Community Health Improvement Week. To celebrate we’re highlighting a few of our Dental Resource Program members who do exceptional work to help children living in their communities prevent tooth decay and grow up with healthier smiles!
Today we’re sharing the story of…
Before Capstone Dental opened its doors in August of 2020, there hadn’t been a dental office in Parrish, Alabama in years. Since then they have worked to get involved with their local schools to offer kid-friendly oral hygiene lessons for the students, and to partner with after-school programs and daycares to better educate parents and children about the importance of oral health.
They kicked off their community outreach by offering back-to-school backpacks for students at their clinic. Each backpack was filled with items such as notebooks, folders, pencils, gift certificates for haircuts, shoes, and a toothbrush from America’s ToothFairy.
“It was amazing when you all gave us 1,000 toothbrushes,” said Dr. Aneesa Bone. “Each backpack will receive a toothbrush now. The backpacks bless the students in the Walker County area and surrounding counties.”
Other Community Health Improvement Week partner highlights…
Children’s Dental Services (CDS) serves children and pregnant patients out of two full-service clinics in Northeast Minneapolis and through portable dental services delivered in schools, Head Start centers, homeless care events, and other community locations across the state of Minnesota where children and families naturally congregate. Since March of 2020 in response to COVID-19, CDC also treats adults. Beginning in 2023, CDC will welcome patients to their new clinic in Duluth.
Last year nearly 30,000 children and 7,000 pregnant patients and adults received culturally-tailored dental services and oral health education through CDS, with over 90% of patients served enrolled in state-funded programs like Medicaid. Since the pandemic, patients have presented for care at CDS with four times the rate of dental pain, tooth loss, abscesses or infections, and emergency care needs. The multi-lingual staff works hard to divert dental emergencies away from overburdened hospitals.
“There simply aren’t enough dentists accepting medical assistance to meet the needs of the community in Minneapolis and around Minnesota,” said CDS Executive Director Sarah Wovcha. “This has led to children, pregnant people, and families not receiving appropriate dental care and education.” To overcome these barriers, CDS has provided on-site outreach, education, and comprehensive dental services to engage these populations in proper oral health habits and minimize dental disease by as much as 50%.
KinderSmile Foundation was founded in 2007 through a personal dental experience of Dr. Nicole McGrath Barnes. “A five-year-old, black girl presented to my office from a local Head Start with an oral abscess that she had been suffering with for 3 months,” Dr. McGrath Barnes told us. “This young girl could not find a dentist within a five-mile radius to treat her. That was when I changed hats from a Private practitioner to Community Service Dentist advocating for access to oral healthcare for children and families in marginalized communities.”
In 2016 KinderSmile Foundation opened its first Oral Health Program dental home in Bloomfield, New Jersey. With an emphasis on education, intervention and prevention, they provide comprehensive dental services to children ages 0 to 21 including patients with special needs.
KinderSmile Oral Health Program helps more children access dental care regardless of insurance status by bringing free dental care to schools and community centers. During these visits, children receive oral health education and nutritional counseling, dental exams and cleanings, as well as fluoride treatments and dental sealants when appropriate.
The program also emphasizes the importance of linking children to a dental home. Kids can receive follow-up comprehensive dental care in addition to routine dental check-ups to prevent future decay at one of three KinderSmile Community Oral Health Centers in Bloomfield, Trenton, and Newark.
Serving as a dental home for local medically underserved children no matter their age or insurance status, Augusta Regional Dental Clinic’s young patients receive comprehensive oral examinations, cleanings, and x-rays as well as restorative care. If parents call with an emergency for their child–even if the child is not a patient of record–their staff will make sure to see the patient the same day or next.
35% of the clinic's patients are children. During each visit, each patient and their parents learn about the importance of an oral health routine and healthy eating habits. Most importantly, they learn that regular dental visits are essential in order to maintain a healthy smile. Patients and parents are encouraged to ask questions and leave the clinic with complimentary dental hygiene products and materials.
Their staff also visits local elementary schools to provide free exams, x-rays, sealants, and hands-on dental health education sessions. At the end of the visit, parents receive a full report including recommendations for follow-up care/appointments and tips to maintain good dental hygiene. In 2022, 615 children received free dental exams through the clinic's school program.
“This program is a priority for our clinic as it allows us to reach out to families who do not visit their dentist on a regular basis due to mobility/financial constraints,” the clinic’s director, Sophie Parson told us. “Our county is a Dental Healthcare Provider Shortage Area. Few local dentists accept children with Medicaid benefits or no insurance. This is why our clinic is vital to many underserved children in our county. By providing top-quality dental care at affordable prices, we address the affordability and accessibility barriers. By being a dental home, where patients are seen on an appointment basis at least twice a year and by offering educational services, our team addresses the educational and awareness barrier.”
Tracy Laughner, RDH is on a mission to help students learn to take control of their oral health while they are young so they can have a healthy smile for the rest of their lives.
Overall, Kentucky ranks 42nd in the U.S. when it comes to oral health. To reach her goal of making Kentucky number one in healthy smiles, Tracy takes her interactive teaching experience to schools in impoverished areas of Kentucky and Appalachia. She makes the science of a healthy mouth easy to understand and remember for decades to come.
With the help of volunteers, Tracy brings a giant model of teeth and gums along with other fun props to engage elementary students in hands-on learning. Students learn about going to the dentist, nutrition, the importance of healthy gums, how to prevent cavities, the effects of smoking on oral health, and how sealants and fluoride protect young smiles from tooth decay.
She also teaches kids about the effect candy has on their teeth. During “Candy College” she acknowledges that while everybody likes candy, eating it too often–especially sticky or sour candies–can have a detrimental impact on the health of their smiles.
“I am determined to help schools say ‘no’ to taffy,” Tracy told us. “I tell teachers that thousands of dollars are spent on the children to have sealants and then a school party offers taffy that pulls them off.”
With resources from America’s ToothFairy and donors like SmileMakers, Tracy can also provide toothbrushes for students after her presentation. After learning about the importance of healthy daily hygiene habits, students often ask her for extra toothbrushes to give to their siblings or parents. Others are thrilled to no longer have to share a toothbrush with other family members.
To learn more about Plan Ahead Smiles Program, visit PlanAheadSmilesProgram.org.