Open Up: Say "AHHH"

Children’s preventive dental program keeps kids smiling

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

For thousands of children, Lisa D. Poland, DMD, and her staff have provided the opportunity to open up and say, “Ahhh.”

A little relief has been administered in the form of dental care for low-income and high-risk children through WVU HSC Eastern Division’s school-based Children’s Preventive Dental Care program. Patients are seen in over 60 locations in Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan counties.

In 2006, a community coalition began forming to respond to the growing population of children in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle who were going without regular dental care services, including yearly check-ups and teeth cleanings. A mobile, school-based dental service developed a year later. And it kept growing.

“Over the last seven years, with the trust people have in the WVU name, we’ve built the program from 400-500 children a year to 4,000 a year,” said Dr. Poland, director of Dental Health Programs at WVU HSC Eastern Division.

Poland and a team of dental hygienists and dental assistants use portable equipment to travel to the schools to provide dental exams, fluoride treatments, sealants, and other services. With recent personnel increases, the program is now offering two teeth cleanings per year to children instead of one.

By offering these services in the school setting, parents do not have to miss work or provide transportation, and children usually miss only a brief period of school time. The program is available for children ages 4-21 who are enrolled in the West Virginia CHIP or Medicaid program at no cost to the families. Poland also provides these same services for children ages one through three at the Shenandoah Community Health Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

She is quick to mention what an important part the schools play in the program, and school administrators don’t hesitate to praise the work of Poland and her staff. Cindy Barber, principal at Back Creek Valley Elementary in Hedgesville, West Virginia, said, “Dr. Poland has such a way of working with the children and making them so comfortable. It is just amazing to watch her work. I think, ‘Wow, I wish I had a dentist like that when I was a child.’”

Some parents often need to be put at ease about enrolling their child, and the partnership with the local schools gives an extra boost to morale for the program. Barber said, “Providing them with an opportunity to have the initial consultation where a dentist can meet with the child in the school and knowing that we support it as a school, I think that makes some parents more comfortable.”

For children who were once in the school-based program but have since found a dental home, Poland continues to intervene when needed. One patient, a first grader, who had been to a dentist within the past three months, still had two teeth that were causing her pain. Poland and staff contacted the dentist and asked why nothing had been done. They said that the child needed to be referred to an oral surgeon in another town. Dr. Poland called the child’s mother, who said she could not get her child to the out-of-town dentist, and she was concerned about putting her child under anesthesia. Poland reassured the mother, referred the child to a local oral surgeon, and the child was seen within a week to get the teeth extracted.

The program has had such an impact in the rural communities it serves that it has become the model for a state dental program aiming to put dental services like these in every public school in the state.

This year, 16 schools will begin to have school-based dental care inspired by Poland’s efforts.

While the main goal is to educate people on the importance of dental care and help children transition out of the school-based care to find a permanent dental home, Poland has seen how vital this program is to the people of local communities. She said, “Even though we have a lot of success, there is still a population that would never get any dental care at all without this program.”