Visiting the dentist may not be everyone’s favorite appointment, but research shows1 that poor oral health can impact overall health and well-being. Establishing good dental hygiene is important for all ages, and teaching healthy habits to kids is even more crucial.
Providing this education, and creating positive dental experiences, is something Gaston Family Health Services (GFHS) offers through its Dental Assistance Program. The program began in 2006, and in 2017, GFHS’s first mobile dental unit (MDU) that visits local schools offering dental care to students hit the road.
The MDU serves seven school districts: Gaston, Catawba, Hickory, Newton-Conover, Iredell-Statesville, Mooresville, and Thomasville city schools. Coordinating with principals and school nurses, GFHS staff provide annual exams and preventive care to qualifying students.
During the 2018-2019 school year, 3,611 children were seen for preventive care and dental concerns. Karen Kerley BSN, RN, NCSN is the head nurse for Iredell-Statesville Schools. She is on the front lines and sees each day how students benefit from services like the GFHS MDU. She notes that the mobile unit never leaves and is local – “whether [a family] has Medicaid, no insurance, or [has] insurance but [a] parent can’t or won’t take [a child] to the dentist, the child is seen and taken care of.”
Reaching these kids would be nearly impossible if not for access at school. Sometimes parents miss a follow-up or dismiss the exam results altogether. Through coordinated efforts, GFHS dental staff can ensure that no child falls through the cracks. They also ensure that children who are referred for follow-up care have easy access to one of GFHS’s stand-alone clinics.
Melissa Boughman, RDH, is the Director of the GFHS Dental Access Program, which she has coordinated for 11 years. She works closely with nurses like Kerley to see all children that register for care regardless of their ability to pay.
They follow up with every parent to ensure the completion of dental needs. Her team identifies the most at-risk students and follow-ups with their parents to ensure care is completed. Her team also follows up with students during check-ups and educates kids and parents on the benefits of good oral hygiene.
“The need for dental care is so great – I am thrilled that we can connect children to that care while they are at school. It is so exciting to see them smiling and happy after their visit and know that we’ve provided great care, a dental home, and plenty of education on how to care for their teeth,” Boughman says.
Despite the high volume of students receiving care through the GFHS MDU, demand for the unit continues to grow. To help provide care to more students across the GFHS service area, Blue Cross and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) is proud to invest $500,000 to fund a second MDU that will ensure that more children receive necessary dental care.
“I never dreamed [the program] would get this big or that we would have not one but TWO mobile dental units!” Boughman says. “It’s huge that we have received this second unit from Blue Cross NC – some counties were just barely holding on.”
At Blue Cross NC we are proud to help expand access to care in Gaston County and the surrounding area. Children thrive when they are healthy and active, and improving access to critical oral health services means that these North Carolina kids, and their parents, will have something new to smile about.
For more information about GFHS read here.
Source: Poor Dental Health Associated With Other Serious Health Risks, American Council on Science and Health, 2018