We know that poor oral health can have a detrimental effect on a child’s quality of life, their performance at school and their success later in life.
We are fortunate that the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) recently launched a school-based children’s oral health education and sealant program in collaboration with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, The Rotary Foundation of Sarasota, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and The Patterson Foundation. This sealant program is available to all the second-grade students attending Title 1 Schools in Sarasota County.
Kim McCarren, a dental hygienist at Florida Department of Health, is in charge of the school-based dental sealant program and believes that when it comes to the oral health of our youngest patients, we don’t intervene early enough.
McCarren has set up and managed successful school-based sealant programs in Charlotte and Martin counties and now travels with her portable dental chair and disposable equipment here in Sarasota.
As each second-grade student with a signed parental permission slip wiggles in the dental chair, Kim first checks to see if the child is Medicaid eligible. No child is ever turned away, but billing Medicaid for the services ensures the program will be sustainable.
Next, Kim teaches each student how to brush and floss and tells them why they should eat more healthy fruits and vegetables. Then she carefully completes an oral screening and applies sealants to the healthy emerging molars.
Sadly, nearly 50% of her patients have active decay in their baby teeth. If left untreated, this decay can cause a lifetime of health problems.
Kim works closely with the school nurse to follow up with parents and ensure that each child with active decay visits the dentist within 24 hours if possible or before the active infection causes the child pain and results in absenteeism. Students with greater dental needs are referred to dentists at the Department of Health. The Department of Health will be tracking the data and will be sharing these findings with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
The financial projections show this program is self-sustaining, with Medicaid reimbursements covering the cost of supplies and the dental hygienists. DOH-Sarasota is also exploring the possibility of utilizing the portable dental chairs for Head Start, although they are not yet certain if that program can be self-sustaining. The partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, The Rotary Foundation of Sarasota, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and The Patterson Foundation is working together to keep children in our Title I schools healthy and in the classroom.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Without continued growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.”
We have so much more to do to ensure every child has access to good oral health.