Dental check-ups are no longer suggested for children, but mandated for most students by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Public Health Solutions is in the process of checking students’ teeth in schools throughout its service area of Gage, Jefferson, Thayer, Saline and Fillmore counties.
The DHHS regulation that went into effect at the start of the 2014-2015 school year stipulates children in preschool through fourth grade, seventh grade and 10th grade must receive health screenings annually, which include dental, hearing and vision check-ups, as well as recorded height, weight and body mass index.
“Some schools have us check students in every grade while we’re here,” said Carmen Chinchilla, Public Health Solutions Dental Program Coordinator. “Students are sent home with a toothbrush and information packet and their parents are given report cards. If they have parent consent, they get a fluoride varnish and sealants.”
Registered Dental Hygienist Deb Schardt checked the teeth of students for two days in a row at Tri County. Chinchilla noted on the report card the condition of the student’s teeth and any concerns.
Schardt said the benefit of a fluoride varnish is that “it helps remineralize and protects from cavities, and that sealants protect the biting surface from cavities. The sealants are like a plastic coating that also release fluoride into the teeth, she said.
“The goal is to have these kids referred to a dentist at a young age,” Chinchilla said. “Most kids don’t see a dentist before the age of 3 or even 5. For some of them, this is the first time they’ve had anyone poke around in their mouth. We try to make it as positive of an experience as possible.”
Preschoolers were first up on Friday. Each was greeted enthusiastically by the staff, given a stuffed animal to hold during the short check-up and told to pick out a sticker afterward.
“We do it in a non-threatening environment,” Chinchilla said. “They know their school. And they’re friends are doing it, so they can emulate what they’re doing.”
Public Health Solution’s dental program started two years ago when DHHS issued its mandatory changes to school health screenings. Chinchilla said the program has thus far been paid for by grant money, which is set to expire Sept. 30.
“We’re currently working on a sustainability plan that helps us keep doing this, because it’s a worthy cause,” she said.
When the team is done seeing students in its area this fall, they said they will have seen more than 5,000 kids since the program started. Chinchilla said about 70 percent of the schools in the five counties agreed to the visits by the dental team.
The alternative is for students to be checked by a dentist with a form of proof or to be checked by the school nurse.