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FirstHealth Receives Funding to Expand Dental Services in Montgomery County Schools

| Date Posted: 12/20/2019

PINEHURST, NC – A grant awarded by The Duke Endowment will allow FirstHealth Dental Care to expand services in rural and underserved schools in Montgomery County.


FirstHealth is one of 12 organizations to receive $65,000 in funding from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation.


More than 4.1 million people in North Carolina and South Carolina, including many children, live in a designated dental professional shortage area. School-based programs provide care to children who might not otherwise have access to oral health professionals. These programs eliminate other barriers, such as transportation issues and time away from school and work for appointments.


School-aged children are particularly affected by poor oral health, and tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children. Oral health problems and pain affect performance at school and are the top reason for school absences in low-resourced communities. Research finds that dental pain has a similar, if not greater, impact on children’s quality of life than acute asthma. Poor oral health in children is associated with increased shyness, feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness and reduced friendliness.


“Dental disease is largely preventable when consistent measures are taken to ensure that children have access to oral health care,” said Sharon Harrell, DDS, MPH, FAGD, director, FirstHealth Dental Care. “We know that programs based in schools are effective but have not been widely replicated in our region. Expanding our services in Montgomery County will provide students with needed dental care in safe, convenient and accessible locations.”


The focus of the grant is to provide dental care to underserved children who do not currently have an existing dental home. Children will receive preventive care and dental treatment either at their school site by portable equipment or by being transported to the on-site School-based Dental Centers at East and West Middle Schools. Over six months, grantees will work with technical assistance providers to understand the practice model, assess organizational capacity and develop implementation plans.


“School-based programs are designed to remove barriers by meeting children where they spend much of their days and to help ensure they are healthy, pain-free and ready to learn,” said Stacy Warren, program officer for health care at The Duke Endowment. “We are proud to support FirstHealth in expanding dental care for children living in rural and underserved areas.”


 “We know that early intervention can be very powerful in affecting health outcomes overall. An increased focus on promoting good oral health habits and improving oral health status, especially for children most at risk of poor oral health, can have profound consequences for long-term health status,” said Erika Kirby, executive director of the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation.


The grants are part of a multi-year collaboration between three southeastern philanthropies to address oral health in the state, with an early focus on school-aged children. This funding follows grants provided in November 2018 to 10 organizations that have since received additional support to expand oral health services in 79 elementary, middle, and high schools during the 2019-2020 academic year.


“All sectors must work together to prevent oral disease in North and South Carolina and ensure more access to much-needed care,” said Katie Eyes, vice president, program and strategy at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. “Such collaboration will have a significant and lasting influence for generations to come.”


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation is an independent, private foundation with the mission of improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians. Since its founding in 2000, $135 million has been invested into North Carolina communities through more than 1,000 grants. In its grantmaking, the organization strives to address the key drivers of health, and takes a flexible approach designed to meet identified needs in partnership with the community. The Foundation also works closely with our grantees, and other nonprofits, to support their growth through capacity building, training, and leadership development opportunities. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.


BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation
Headquartered in Columbia, the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Its mission is to promote and support healthier South Carolinians, particularly the economically vulnerable, by supporting solutions to address gaps in health care and serving as an agent of change to support innovation and value-added public-private partnerships. 


The Duke Endowment
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $3.7 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations.


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