MOVHD dental projects growing

PARKERSBURG – The Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department’s oral health programs for children and adults continue to grow.

The Smiles for Life Program for low-income adults screened 536 clients at the health department. From September 2011 to October 2012, there were 623 client visits to dentists, with 918 hours spent with clients in dental offices.

“We have been able to show, based on emergency room visits and trends across the United States, we have saved the emergency rooms about $250,000 over the past year in visits from people with dental problems. They have no where else to go, and they are seeking pain medication or antibiotics, but that is not addressing the dental problem they have,” Dick Wittberg, executive director with the Mid-Ohio Valley?Health Department, said.

The School-Community Partnership for Children’s Oral Health provides oral health screenings and preventive dental services with cleaning, fluoride varnish and dental sealants when appropriate with the eligible students in the 19 Wood County Elementary Schools, Mary Beth Shea, oral health coordinator, said.

“Students in grades 2-5 are eligible if they have never been seen by a dentist or have not been to a dentist in 12 or more months,” Shea said. “The goals of the program in addition to education and prevention are a positive first dental experience and aid in establishing a relationship with a dentist.”

To participate, students must have parental permission and a brief health history is required. A licensed dental hygienist and dental assistant provide the preventive services at the schools.

The health department will bill Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and fees are payable on a sliding scale with proof of income.

Two changes on the state level have helped oral health programs attempting to serve low-income and children, Shea said.

Last year, the Legislature passed a law so dentists are not required to see a child before a dental hygienst, she said.

“That was a big access to care issue,” Shea said.

Another change involved continuing education for medical provides so they could provide fluoride varnish to high risk children in their offices.

“So physicians assistants, and other personnel who have been trained can apply the varnish, which is an effective way to try and prevent tooth decay in very young children. A lot of times children see a pedeatrician an average of eight times before they even get to a dentist so that’s the thinking behind that. They have take training to do this, I can provide the training,” Shea said.

According to statistics from the health department, as of July, 183 students participated in the oral health program; 89 had untreated decay problems and 94 were referred for further treatment.

“We follow up with the families. We have 11 area dentists who take CHIP and Medicaid, it’s just getting the word out about these benefits for their children. We do outreach and education across the life span,” Shea said.

The Smiles for Life Adult Dental Treatment Program opened in September 2011. The program is a volunteer dental program for low income adults 18 and over who meet income guidelines and are West Virginia residents.

A screening will determine the most-needed dental treatment for the client. Clients are seen by appointment only and proof of income is required at the screening appointment.

The program has about 350 on a waiting list.

“The program is a start, a safety net and it’s working. I always want to give the participating dentists credit, they are key components, they are volunteering their time in their offices and that makes it more cost effective and we have a unique model here we think could be replicated in other areas of the state,” Shea said

The state Oral Health Commission trying to move these issues and concerns ahead on the state level, Shea said. The commission, which always is looking for new partners, meets quarterly, usually in Charleston, Shea said.

An online application is available for the program.

The local Altrusa club has started an oral health fund to provide another source of funding for the oral health programs through the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation, Shea said. It is accepting donations, she said..

The oral health program started in 2007.

For more information on the health department’s oral health projects contact Shea at 304-485-7374, extension 168.