A Place for Oral Health in School Based Health Centers
by Brian Souza, Managing Director, DentaQuest Foundation
I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2014 School Based Health Alliance Convention in Seattle; DentaQuest Foundation was pleased to be a sponsor.
This is a meeting of nearly 1,000 school-based health providers, administrators, educators, and advocates. While oral health can often be left off the table in important health care discussions, John Schlitt, interim president, began the proceedings by talking about SBHA’s important mission to bring primary, mental, and oral health care to the nation's children. The room erupted in agreement.
While their primary mission is education, schools are also an important resource for children’s health, including oral health, and for reducing health disparities by bringing care to where all children spend the majority of their time. School-based oral health education, screenings, assisted referral, and delivery of oral preventive care services provide equitable, reliable entry into long-term oral health care and assist parents by reducing the need to take time from work and find transportation to and from dental appointments. Children who receive care in schools are often an entry point for others in the family to connect with an oral healthcare provider.
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DentaQuest sees this occurring across the country through the work of our grantees and partners. Head Start programs are introducing young families to basics of home oral health care and are connecting children with ongoing oral health care in their neighborhoods. In California, the LA Trust for Children’s Health is piloting sustainable models for delivering in-school screenings of elementary school children and pairing children in need of care with community resources. Services include screening, sealants, fluoride, varnishes, and oral health education, which are all provided at school sites. The school-based clinic at the Whitefoord School in Georgia is delivering full-service dentistry to underserved populations in Southeast Atlanta, and in partnership with Emory University, is helping train dental students, dental hygiene students, and dental assisting students for future work in the community. And this fall, children entering elementary school for the 2014-2015 school year will complete a certificate of oral health as one of their start of school health forms thanks to the efforts of the District of Columbia Children’s National Medical Center and its oral health coalition. This will help school nurses identify children who lack access to oral health services and to develop an overall picture of the oral health of children across the District.
We have an opportunity to expand and amplify these efforts by working to integrate oral health in school based health models across the nation. DentaQuest Foundation is committed to doing just that.
Our Oral Health 2020 campaign is focused on eradicating dental disease in children and improving oral health across the lifespan. One of our core targets is to see oral health incorporated into primary education. The combination of education, prevention, and access to care has the potential to nearly eliminate tooth decay in school-aged children, putting these children on a path to a healthy, disease-free future.
The School Based Health Alliance is building grassroots support for policies, programs, and funding to expand and strengthen SBHCs. These conversations strengthen oral health and health care policy, broaden access to quality care and prevention, align financial investments in oral health, and expand the integration of oral health into community-based systems. We believe that is an important mission and important work, and we are honored to be a part of it.