Gina Smith, FNP
BISCOE – As the family nurse practitioner for the FirstHealth Montgomery County School Health Centers, Gina Smith, FNP, often has occasion to peer into the mouths of students. Along with the tell-tale red of a sore throat or the white patches of Strep, Smith is also likely to find dental decay – and lots of it.
A public health study conducted in Montgomery County three years ago supported Smith’s day-to-day findings, especially noting that fifth-graders in area schools had untreated tooth decay at rates that were even greater than state averages. This year, those same students – now rising eighth-graders – will be the first to benefit from a new oral health program offered by the School Health Centers.
The oral screening/fluoride varnish application program is funded by a grant awarded by the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care to help school health centers provide oral health services to students. The money comes from Kaiser Permanente, which contributed $50 toward the effort for each of its employees who took part in a voluntary online health risk assessment. Almost 23,000 Kaiser Permanente employees participated in the program in its first year, and the program raised $1.2 million overall.
The fluoride varnishes have been provided courtesy of the nonprofit Oral Health America.
According to Smith, 150 students will be screened and receive a varnish application through the new program, beginning with the eighth-graders.
“We want to target them first,” Smith says. “If we can do more, that would be great.”
Sharon Nicholson Harrell, DDS, MPH, director of the FirstHealth Dental Care Centers, helped with the research for the grant proposal by consulting with the Board of Dental Examiners and the Office of Medical Assistance regarding the project. She has been supportive of the screening and varnish application projects that are done in medical settings.
“The initiative will strengthen the collaborative relationship that the FirstHealth Dental Care Centers have always had with the School Health Centers,” Dr. Harrell says. “Our missions have always been aligned, ensuring that low-income children have access to the health care they need. This project will greatly enhance that access.”
Dental problems are the most commonly cited unmet need among children, with tooth decay being one of the most common diseases of childhood. Because of their access to children, studies have shown, school-based health centers are uniquely positioned to help increase the prevention and control of oral diseases while increasing access to related services.
Students identified as having unmet dental health issues during the upcoming screening/fluoride varnish process will be referred to their personal dentist or to the FirstHealth Dental Care Center-Troy for additional care. They will also be educated on the importance of good oral hygiene and the effect of oral and dental problems on general health.
“Anything we can do to promote oral health will make them healthier overall,” Smith says.
The two FirstHealth Montgomery County School Health Centers, located at East Middle School in Biscoe and West Middle School in Mt. Gilead, provide on-site medical care that is open to any children in Montgomery County Schools. For more information on the physical, mental, nutritional, and health and wellness services the centers offer, visit www.firsthealth.org.