The month of February is Dental Health Month, but the IMESD is hoping that children in eastern Oregon are thinking about oral health all year round. The IMESD is providing a variety of programs throughout the region through a five-year grant from the Oregon Community Foundation; this is year three of the grant.
The programs include dental learning labs in schools, dental screenings, fluoride varnishes, sealants and health education bags for classrooms. In Oregon, oral health issues are the number one reason for school absences. All of the IMESD’s 18 component school districts are participating in the oral health program with one common goal – improving the oral health of students to improve their attendance at school and help them succeed.
Cathy Wamsley, project coordinator for IMESD’s oral health programs, said having a healthy mouth is crucial, citing links between poor oral health and diabetes, heart disease, childhood obesity and even mental health. “The mouth is part of the body and needs to be treated as such. Oral health even affects mental health -- if you don’t like your teeth, you don’t want to smile, and that’s a big deal,” Wamsley said.
Many children will not share about their tooth or mouth pain, making it difficult for parents to pinpoint what’s wrong, she said. Part of Wamsley’s job is to get schools involved. “It’s been amazing how responsive our schools have been for making oral health a priority. We’ve done a lot of educating students and communities in the region about the importance of good oral health,” Wamsley said.
Advantage Dental provides all screenings, fluoride varnishes and sealants at no cost regardless of income or insurance. Referrals are then made to the student’s dental provider or assistance is offered to parents to help find a provider.
Dental learning labs are also taken to community health fairs, library reading times, preschools and other community events. Wamsley has sent materials to a few day cares, too. For older students, programs discuss effects of tobacco use, oral piercings and sports drinks, the importance of mouth guards for sports and careers in dental health.
Recently, the oral health programs had a dental learning lab for students at Umatilla-Morrow Head Start at the Pendleton Early Learning Center. Several groups of three- and four-year-olds went through four stations learning about their teeth. At the first station, they used toothbrushes to brush the teeth of friendly dragons with oversized teeth. A tooth-shaped timer counted out two-minute intervals, the time children should spend brushing their own teeth. LEGO blocks and yarn were on hand at the second station for practicing flossing, and the third station featured brushing off “sugar bugs” and brushing on fluoride. The fourth station featured plastic cut-outs of food items, where kids had to decide what was healthy and not so healthy for their teeth.
So far during the 2017-18 school year, the program has:
Screened 5,798 students and 810 preschoolers
Provided fluoride varnish to 2,549 students and 589 preschoolers
Applied 1,809 sealants to students
Identified untreated decay in 1,069 students and 170 preschoolers
The dental learning lab has provided education to 1,524 children.
At the learning lab at the Pendleton Early Learning Center, when the preschoolers had completed their stations, they each received a bag containing a toothbrush and toothpaste – and they were all smiles!