A nonprofit primary care center drives its 40-foot dental unit to nine school districts, where a licensed dental provider performs comprehensive dental exams; cleaning, including preventive scaling; and X-rays if warranted. Ibby Hopper, director of School-Based Services for Cumberland Family Medical Center, Inc., estimates 35 to 40 percent of students on average take advantage of the services, with participation highest in elementary schools.
Children can watch educational videos on dental hygiene while they wait to see the dental provider. They also are educated by Cumberland Family Medical staff on proper brushing, flossing and oral care. Afterward, they receive a goody bag that includes a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and a timer.
Staff with Cumberland Family Medical Center pose
with the nonprofit provider’s new mobile dental bus.
(Photo courtesy of Cumberland Family Medical Center)
Mobile programsAnderson County Schools uses School Smiles, an on-site dental health care provider based in Greenwood, Ind. Basham said the company provides preventive services and if restorative work is needed, sets up a return visit to the school “so the parent doesn’t have to take off work to take those kids to the dentist or out of town.” School Smiles brings portable dental equipment and sets up in whatever space is available at a school.
School health nurses with the county health department also do some preventive work at Anderson County schools, Basham said, while last year a local dentist and her staff gave oral hygiene instructions to students. Education about brushing is the missing piece of the puzzle, she said.
“They’re just not doing it well, or they’re not taught the proper way to brush,” she said. “If they’re not doing it correctly it’s not going to prevent the decay.”
A program operated out of the Purchase District Health Department is one of nine launched a couple of years ago with state funding that enabled health departments to launch mobile dental programs. The program provides preventive services but makes a big push to get kids to a dental home.
“We stay with those families and keep in contact with them in any way possible to see what we can do to help them. We try to find out what their obstacles are in getting to a dentist – is it transportation, is it time, is it even knowing where your providers are,” said Jennifer Nettles, program manager/dental hygienist for the cleaning and sealant program that serves schools in the Purchase and Pennyrile district health departments.
Every child on Medicaid receives a list of dentists in their area that accept Medicaid, but finding a dentist that accepts that form of payment can be problematic in some areas. Nettles said some counties in her area don’t have a dentist at all.
Further, she said data show that a little less than half the Medicaid-eligible children in the area she serves actually receive any form of dental care. “We’re making progress, but I’d say they’re baby steps,” she said.
Angela McDonald, who was health coordinator for Mercer County Schools before joining the state education department’s school-based health unit, said the district’s back-to-school Readi Fest was among the ways the district found to encourage dental screening. The event is specifically designed for kids “that tend to fall between the cracks that don’t really have a medical home,” she said. “It’s open to all grades, too, so a parent could get dental screening for all their kids in one place at the same time.”
At the Readi Fest, children receive the dental screening, plus a toothbrush and education about brushing and the importance of seeing a dentist. Parents also are told about the option of care provided by a mobile clinic and given the necessary paperwork.
FRYSCs are key
School dental service providers sing the praises of family resource/youth services center staff. Their role can include identifying students who need dental work, collaborating with the school nurse, setting up visits by the dental providers, organizing education programs, walking students to their in-school appointments and arranging transportation – or providing it themselves – to a dentist’s office for restorative work.
“We work very closely with our FRYSCs,” said Jennifer Nettles, program manager/dental hygienist for a project that serves schools in the Purchase and Pennyrile district health departments. “And it’s moving to see them take such an active role in the welfare of the kids. They realize how important dental health is to the child’s overall health and how that can impact their school performance.”
Board view: “The need is there”