Community Health Center brings dental inspections into schools
Recorder/Paul Franz Dental Hygienist Jennifer Cavanaugh gives an oral exam and fluoride treatment to third grade student Aleesha Finley at the Discovery School at Four Corners. The free program is sponsored by the Community Health Center and is now at 17 schools in 10 communities. Purchase photo reprints »
GREENFIELD — February may be National Children’s Dental Health Month, but the Community Health Center of Franklin County focuses on youth oral hygiene all year long.
It’s the fourth year of the health center’s school dental program, and the first full year in the Greenfield schools. A traveling dental hygienist brings equipment into various schools to clean and inspect students’ teeth. Families do not have to pay for the service, although the health center does attempt to bill families’ insurance companies to fund the program.
“A lot of children don’t have a regular dental home they can go to for care,” said Lynne Bennett, the health center’s dental manager, who started the program four years ago and continues to coordinate it.
That’s a problem, said the center’s traveling hygienist Jennifer Cavanaugh. If a child’s teeth or gums are decayed, then a dentist will need to remove the problem teeth. Baby teeth that are removed too early can cause adult molars to grow in incorrectly, and adult molars that are decayed and extracted make chewing food difficult.
“It’s not fun to be chewing on apples and carrot sticks if your teeth hurt, so they’re not able to eat nutritious food,” said Cavanaugh.
From its first year of inspecting 17 children in Orange elementary schools, the program has expanded to inspect 260 children from schools across Franklin County last year.
Those numbers should increase even more this year, said Bennett. The program is now at 17 schools in 10 communities: Bernardston, Conway, Gill, Greenfield, Leyden, Montague, Northfield, Sunderland, Warwick and Whately.
Bennett coordinates with school nurses, who then advertise the program to students and their families. Once a school collects sign-up forms from a number of interested families, the health center works with the school and the town’s board of health to schedule times for the sessions.
Cavanaugh carries the equipment with her in transportable cases, allowing her to set up anywhere in the school. The health center recently secured a $25,000 grant from the Marion F. Boynton Trust to buy a new stool, patient chair and light — making the setting feel not too different from a dentist’s office.
Cavanaugh can examine a child’s teeth, give a dental cleaning and put a protective coating over permanent molars to make the teeth stronger.
Cavanaugh can’t take X-rays and stressed that her inspection isn’t a substitute for a dentist’s exam. She sends home a sheet to parents detailing what she found and, if regular dental visits aren’t occurring, she’ll try to provide resources to connect the family with a dentist.
And during the sessions, which typically last 20 minutes to a half hour, Cavanaugh works hard to make the children feel comfortable and understand why it’s important to keep up with oral hygiene. Students leave with a toothbrush and an easy-to-use flossing tool.
Brushing twice a day for two minutes each time and flossing once a day can make a big difference, she said. It’s all about getting rid of the germs before they build up and dissolve the teeth.
Greenfield Superintendent Susan Hollins, who had been pushing for a dental school program for years, said she supports the effort 100 percent. And Greenfield public health nurse Cheryl Volpe said the program fits into the health department’s effort to help all of its residents have access to health services.
Families interested in signing their children up for the program should contact their school nurse, said Bennett.
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