Students at St. Mary’s School in Breckenridge, Minnesota, received special dental kits this week during their vision, hearing and oral screenings at the school. Students at Rothsay Public School and Breckenridge Public School also received screenings and dental kits. The screenings are geared to students in kindergarten through third grade.
The schools contract with Wilkin County Public Health to do the health screenings, and the county’s health department received a $500 grant from West Central Initiative to purchase the dental kits, which include toothbrush and toothpaste, floss, a toothbrush case and a timer. The county’s Community Oral Health Education Project is intended to educate children about the importance of proper dental hygiene and how to take care of their teeth.
Brittany Knaust and Kathryn Reichman, second year dental hygiene students at North Dakota State College of Science, assisted Maggie Wiertzema, RN, with Wilkin County Public Health, in giving annual oral screenings Tuesday, Sept. 25 at St. Mary’s School. Wiertzema said the college students were earning credits for their work, and she appreciated the help with the screenings.
“We’re pretty excited about being able to offer them,” Wiertzema said of the screenings and dental kits. “It’s a hardship for some families to afford dental insurance, or they’re dealing with a long waiting list (to see a dentist), especially those families on Medical Assistance. This is one way we can help get them a toothbrush and toothpaste, and some additional education that maybe they’re not getting at home.”
The health department does the screenings at the schools every fall. The nurse fills out a form indicating any issues they identify during screenings, and those forms are sent home to parents through the school.
A mobile dental clinic through Children’s Dental Services is planning visits to Wilkin County Courthouse, where the public health department is housed, later this fall, as another type of outreach.
West Central Initiative’s Early Childhood Dental Network is a nine-county, multi-disciplinary collaborative project designed to increase awareness and education to all children and their caregivers about the importance of oral health, and to increase access to dental care, specifically to the ages 0-5 population on Minnesota Health Care Programs or the uninsured.
Childhood tooth decay is the most chronic, but preventable, infectious disease in children. Dental problems are five times more prevalent than asthma and seven times more than hay fever, and 50 percent of tooth decay in low-income children goes untreated.
To combat that, education is provided about the importance of daily brushing and flossing, proper nutrition, regular check-ups and fluoride.
According to the Minnesota Oral Health Plan executive summary (2013-2018), 55 percent of third graders experience dental decay, 18 percent of third graders have untreated cavities, and 59 percent of children with Medicaid coverage do not receive any dental services by or under the supervision of a dentist. Untreated diseased teeth can mean a child is experiencing pain which may inhibit learning and may even be at risk for serious systemic infection.
Minnesota’s successes with oral health care can be touted. The state is ranked top in the nation for prevention and treatment of oral disease among third graders, and nearly all Minnesotans who are connected to public water supplies receive fluoridated drinking water.