By Stefanie Jackson
Eastern Shore Rural Health CEO Nancy Stern and Chief Dental Officer Scott Wolpin brought smiles to the Accomack school board meeting with their update on the health system’s dental program offering clinics at two schools and dental services for all Accomack elementary and middle school students.
School-based dental care “contributes to improved academic performance, positive behavioral outcomes, increased attendance, and better quality of life for students at all grade levels,” Stern said.
Offering dental health services at school increases the overall dental health of children in the community “significantly.”
Eastern Shore Rural Health System (ESRHS) operates dental clinics at Metompkin Elementary School in Parksley and Pungoteague Elementary School. The dental program has served Accomack students since 1995.
ESRHS provides a Traveling Oral-health Preventative Program (TOPs) that includes middle school students.
Portable dental equipment allows kids to get checkups, cleanings, fluoride treatments, and even X-rays.
Eastern Shore Rural Health’s school-based dental services include preventative, restorative, and emergency care. Students requiring dental surgery may be treated at the Atlantic or Franktown community health centers.
ESRHS also contracts with the Accomack school division to provide dental health services to children in Head Start, the federally funded preschool program for children ages 3 to 5 from low-income families.
One common dental procedure per-formed at the clinics is the application of dental sealants. These are thin plastic coatings painted onto a child’s molars that prevent tooth decay by as much as 70 percent.
Of Accomack students who needed dental sealants, 97 percent received them within six months of their initial visit to one of the school clinics.
The school-based dental clinics exceeded the goal set by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for improving access to healthcare. Dental treatment plans were completed for 78 percent of students, surpassing the benchmark of 60 percent.
School-based dental clinics “address some of the barriers that parents face when at-tempting to access oral health care for their children,” Stern stated in her presentation.
The dental clinics are located on Accomack school grounds, but they operate year-round, even during summer vacation and on some holidays – further breaking down barriers to oral health care access. The dental clinics provided 253 days of service at Metompkin Elementary and 252 days of service at Pungoteague Elementary for the year ending May 31, 2017, and they were open during nearly 100 percent of instructional days.
About 2,800 kids received dental treatment without parents having to miss work to take them to appointments.
Another 579 kids in middle school, ages 11 to 13, participated in TOPs.
Children with poor dental health are more than twice as likely to perform poorly in school and are three times as likely to miss school compared to children with no dental health issues.
Eastern Shore Rural Health is a member of the Virginia Community Healthcare Association and the National Association of Community Health Centers that serves more than 24 million people in 10,400 rural and urban communities nationwide.
Community health centers are non-profits that serve medically underserved areas or medically underserved populations regardless of patients’ ability to pay. These facilities receive HRSA funding.
One in 12 Americans rely on community health centers for medical care, including one in nine children, one in five rural residents, and one in three people living in poverty. These health centers also serve more than 355,000 military veterans.
America’s first community health center program was launched in 1965 under the influence of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative, and the founding of the National Association of Community Health Centers followed in 1971.
By Stefanie Jackson