Today’s blog post is by Donna Carroll, Director of Health Initiatives at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental related problems. Lack of access to oral health care unfairly impacts children from low-income families.
Tooth decay is almost completely preventable. What kind of country are we if we do not address this issue? How can we expect a child to excel academically if he or she has a tooth ache or is suffering from an abscess?
Recognizing that dental problems represent one of the single biggest untreated health issues facing our children, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo has been strategically working with community partners to increase access to dental services for Kalamazoo public school students.
Creating access and developing a different way to deliver dental services doesn’t happen overnight. We have worked hard over the past seven years to build relationships with Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services and the Family Health Center to bring their expertise to where our children are…in the schools.
We began with the county providing preventive care to students. Hygienists visited school campuses and site coordinators helped them set up in an empty room where they could do cleanings, X-rays, and fluoride treatments.
As wonderful as this was, it wasn’t enough. Two-thirds of children receiving preventive care needed follow-up appointments to treat cavities.
Three years ago, Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services acquired a dental van. Known as the “Smiles to Go” van, it enables our dental partners to travel from school to school, providing not only preventive services but also access to a dentist who is on board two days a week to handle fillings and other restorative care.
Just last year, Family Health Center, in collaboration with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, received a federal grant to put a dental facility in an elementary school-based health center located at Edison Environmental Science Academy. Staffed by a hygienist four days a week and a dentist one day a week, Edison has provided dental care to 287 kids in the first quarter of this school year alone.
Communities In Schools provides the infrastructure within the school to allow these dental services to reach the kids who need them. Our site coordinators distribute and collect the necessary permission forms, check the information, follow up with parents, create the schedules and get the kids to the dental experts.
For many of the children we serve, transportation is a barrier and keeping appointments outside of the school setting can pose a hardship for families. Having access to dental care within the school setting is huge for our kids. We are proud to be a part of a community that refuses to allow dental decay, or what the U.S. Surgeon General has referred to as a “silent epidemic,” to wipe out the hopes and dreams of our kids.