The Mercy Foundation’s Healthy Kids Outreach Program has instituted dental programs in most Douglas County schools to teach kids about the importance of good dental hygiene.
Trina McClure–Gwaltney, the program manager for the Healthy Kids Outreach Program, and Jody Perkins, a dental hygienist for HKOP were interviewed recently on CHI Mercy Health’s Talking Health on News Radio 1240 KQEN.
Host Lisa Platt visited with them about how the dental program is serving kids in schools all over the county.
The following is an edited version of the interview.
Lisa: How many Douglas County schools does the Healthy Kids Outreach Dental Program serve?
Trina: Almost all schools in Douglas County except for a couple of high schools. However, all the elementary schools are covered with prevention services.
Lisa: How many kids do they see on an annual basis?
Trina: With the dental screenings, it’s a little over 4,000. We’re anticipating more this school year and expect about 8,000 will receive dental screenings and dental education.
Lisa: How are schools awarded the dental initiative?
Trina: Schools do not have to apply for our dental services. It’s part of a statewide initiative to stamp out dental decay and dental disease, and we’ve been a part of starting that initiative here in our community.
Parents do have to sign a consent form, but the prevention program serves all children regardless of insurance or financial status, or if they have a dentist. We also help connect families to a dental home for any follow-up care that’s needed.
Lisa: Jody, how many teams are part of the dental initiatives.
Jody: We have five dental teams, and each team would include a dental hygienist and one dental assistant.
Lisa: What are your goals for the dental initiative?
Trina: Originally when we started our initiative, we wanted to see the number of caries, or dental cavities reduced, so that’s been a goal from the beginning.
But in addition to that we also want to see a reduction in dental urgent or emergent needs. We wanted to see more kids connected to dental homes and receiving regular care.
Lisa: Now that you’ve been doing this for eight years, can you tell us a little about some of the progress that you’ve made?
Trina: We know that prevention doesn’t yield immediate outcomes. It’s long-term outcomes and now that we’ve been consistent for eight years, we’ve been seeing some of those outcome turnarounds and it’s quite exciting.
Our original goals of reducing our cavities by 10 percent has been reached and surpassed. We have looked at the number of urgent appointments needed this last year, and one school cut this in half, by the elevated services that we are providing their students.
We’ve also seen a direct reduction in our emergency room for dental pain. Once we added the educational component, we saw a reduction of 63 percent for these types of visits to the ER.
Lisa: When you say elevated services, we’re talking about silver diamine fluoride?
Trina: Yes. Based upon a risk assessment, elevated services, like silver diamine fluoride and antiseptic wash and even a temporary restoration can be provided to students. It can help stop the decay and help the child be comfortable before they get to see their dentist.
We get great support from our 16 dental provider partners in the community, in getting any child in that needs to be seen quickly.
Lisa: Jody, can you explain what caries are?
Jody: Cavities, or caries, are really tooth decay. It’s when a tooth breaks down and the enamel erodes away sometimes causing the child pain.
Lisa: How did we get started with the Dental Learning Lab?
Trina: We started these two years after we started our dental clinics. We wanted something to build on the concept that each grade was learning something in addition to what they had learned prior, about oral health, and an activity to get kids excited.
The other piece we noticed was that a lot of our kids had never seen a dentist and had a lot of anxiety about even going to our clinic. We wanted to create something that they could anticipate what they were going to see, and to have their anxiety reduced before they even got to the hygienist to be screened.
So, we developed a hands-on station where kids go through and do activity. The older grades get to learn about the impacts of nutrition, drugs and alcohol and then even further we promote the health careers in the dental field so that when we are at the high schools, we can be encouraging them to think about dental careers.
Lisa: Why is it so important to have volunteers?
Trina: We definitely couldn’t run our program without the volunteers. Our schools work to help us find parent volunteers to help out within our dental learning lab, but also being a runner for our clinics.
We use volunteers in the dental learning lab and the clinic. The clinic uses them to be runners to go get the student from the class and help hand out the oral hygiene kids once they’re done with the clinic portion, so it really helps the flow of the clinic move and get to as many kids as possible.
Lisa: What would you tell parents about telling the kids about the impact of good dental care?
Jody: It just makes such a huge difference in a child’s life. I try to recommend to parents to take advantage of all the learning opportunities that are out there and all of the school-based programs that are provided for them. If they can’t get their child to brush and floss twice a day, do the best you can and try to involve them in the school-based clinics and be part of that.
Lisa: If people want to volunteer, how do they get in touch with you?
Trina: Call Mercy Foundation 541-677-4818. They will put them through to me or someone on our dental team.
The website is www.mercygiving.org