While February is celebrated nationally as Children’s Dental Health Month, at NKY Health it is a yearlong observance. The staff of NKY Health’s school-based Oral Health Program are dedicated to ensuring the dental health of our area’s children. Services provided by Debbie Poe and Missy Dalhover, which include assessments, dental cleanings, dental sealants, fluoride varnish and direct oral health education, are crucial for the 2,000 students treated during each school year. In our four counties served, 35% of the students we assess have dental decay, 20% of which are categorized as urgent or emergency status. Case management to ensure dental treatment for the 700 students referred to a dentist each year for cavities, regardless of insurance coverage or immigration status, is a nonstop task for the oral health program.
The majority of children we see are covered by KY Medicaid, and their needed dental treatment is covered. However, a long waiting list to see the low amount of Medicaid dental providers in the area, along with parents’ lack of understanding about the need for this treatment, prevents many of these children from receiving care. Twenty-three (23%) of the students we see have no dental insurance coverage, and many are financially unstable and undocumented in the United States. Their past dental history and immigration status, along with a language barrier, makes parent education and finding dental treatment very difficult.
While the Oral Health staff is confronted with serious and often heart-breaking health issues with children on a daily basis, they go out of their way to make sure their patients are comfortable, at ease and educated. When the children see Debbie and Missy having a good time, it relaxes them and makes them want to be a part of what they are doing. Our Oral Health team is often found breaking into song while applying dental sealants, using props in the room where they are working to break the tension, or dancing to Prince in the school gymnasium. If the job we do gets overwhelming, just listening to a few comments made by the children while in the dental chair will have us laughing! This includes the first-grader who asked, “Why are you putting ceilings on my teeth?” (meaning sealants), or the little girl who very assertively said, “My mom said I am going to get bracelets on my teeth” (meaning braces). Debbie often gets asked if she is a real dentist, to which she replies, “No, but I’m a real dental hygienist.” This did NOT calm down one boy who did not want his teeth looked at, so he threw himself down on the floor, screaming, “You’re not even a real dentist!”
Well, you can’t win them all, but we certainly try!
By: Linda Poynter, PHRDH, BHS
Oral Health Program Manager