Oral health program improving access to dental care while students learn remotely

SPOKANE, Wash. — Kids who don’t go to school in-person will face another hurdle: getting access to what they need to be healthy.

One program, which goes into schools where students are in need, is trying to adapt to the pandemic so they can keep helping kids.

Smiles Spokane’s dental sealant program has been going to schools in the past to help students with free dental work. It partners with the Toothsavers of Washington. Just last year in Spokane County, they helped more than 2,000 students get sealants.

Sealants help prevent cavities in kids, which then helps prevent other health conditions down the road that can come from poor dental hygiene. The CDC says sealants can protect up to 80 percent of cavities for up to two years.

“Bad things can happen when your teeth are in poor condition. It causes a chronic inflammation which can cause other chronic diseases,” said Dr. Deb Harper, a retired pediatrician.

In her 30+ years of being a pediatrician, she’s seen oral hygiene in kids fall behind.

“Parents tend to look at teeth as a lower priority over other parts of a child’s health,” she said.

The program focuses on schools where half or more than half its students are on free or reduced lunch.

“There’s a huge lack of access to care here in our community, especially in Spokane,” said Amber Juliano, the director of Toothsavers of Washington.

That gap can get bigger now that schools in the City of Spokane are moving remotely for the start of the school year.

Juliano they’re doing what they can to help the kids in need.

“We’re looking at alternatives, in visiting the before and after school programs. We are still in some day cares, preschool programs and some of the outlying districts that are going to have in person school. As soon as in person schooling resumes, we’ll be right back in here,” she said.

Juliano added they are looking at getting a dental van to bring to community centers, hoping to bridge that gap for families in need.

Both Juliano and Harper said one solution that could help the community as a whole is to add fluoride to the city’s water.

City council president Breean Beggs says a town hall will be held next Thursday to discuss this with a possible vote on August 31.

While the city is sorting out the details, Juliano has this reminder: It’s important for kids, and parents, to brush their teeth, and do it correctly.

For more information on how to access that care, visit Toothsavers of Washington’s website here. They have a list of places they are visiting in the next few weeks. As for schools which will be open for in-person learning, Juliano said they will be sending a form home to parents.

The Spokane Regional Health District also has help for families in need of dental work. It’s called the Access to Baby and Child Dentistry Program. Click here for more information.