Alliance Community Task Force: Creating Opportunity
Untreated tooth decay can lead to pain, infection, and problems with speaking, eating, working, and playing. Because it is important to teach children about dental hygiene and treat problems early, Panhandle Public Health District (PPHD) works with children throughout the Panhandle.
PPHD partners with Head Start centers, preschools, and school districts with their dental health program, currently providing preventive dental care in 31 elementary schools and 13 Head Start locations. PPHD does not have a clinic or dentist on staff, but they do have a dental hygienist, Kendra Kauruhn, and they work with pediatric dentists in the area. Kauruhn has a presentation, Keeping Teeth Strong, which is offered to classrooms every February. More importantly, Kauruhn offers dental treatments, and her work is done in the school setting.
To participate in the program and receive treatments, parents are required to sign a consent form. Services PPHD offers:
· Fluoride varnish treatments
· Dental sealants
· Dental health education
· Referrals to dentists
Each child screened is sent home with a form listing what services have been provided. The form indicates if there is a need for urgent or early dental care. If there is a problem, they’ll need to see a dentist.
Head Start students are taught proper brushing techniques and practice brushing every day they are at school. Preschool students receive dental education only, not treatments.
Within Box Butte County, participating schools include Hemingford Public Schools and Alliance schools: Emerson, Grandview, Early Childhood, St. Agnes, Immanuel Lutheran, Head Start, and Migrant Head Start. PPHD will serve older students and home-schooled students on request by calling Kauruhn at PPHD, 308-633-2866 ext. 106. Schools are visited and treatments are given each semester.
Dental Days is another program coordinated by PPHD. Dentistry students and hygienists practice their skills in a supervised setting, and low-income children get much-needed dental care. Area dentists turn their offices over to the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry, with visiting students and teachers providing services. The day serves school children age 3 through 21 who are uninsured or underinsured. There is no cost to families for dental work for their kids.
Dental Days usually happens in early summer, all day Friday and Saturday morning. In June, 2023, Dental Days was only held in Sidney and Gordon. Some of the pediatric dentists who teach or work with the College of Dentistry have retired or quit; therefore, PPHD was unable to offer the program in Alliance this year.
Why this focus on dental care for children? Oral problems such as cavities can impact a child’s ability to learn. Children in low-income families who don’t have access to dental care miss three times as many school days due to oral health problems. These children often have decreased appetite, depression, and are unable to focus attention – all of which can lead to a risk of lower school attendance and learning.
Regular preventive dental care can lessen the health risks these children will face as adults, including heart disease, diabetes, and pregnancy complications. Good dental care can also help improve self-esteem because healthy teeth and gums are important to our feelings about ourselves. Preventive dental health care is vital and needs to be offered at an early age.