The ECU School of Dental Medicine provided free dental care for 207 children at six locations across the state during Children’s Oral Health Month in February as part of the American Dental Association Foundation’s annual Give Kids a Smile® initiative.
In Greenville, 80 children and their families experienced an interactive health fair with emphasis on the whole child sponsored by the East Central Dental Society. The school’s pediatric dentistry faculty, residents, and students joined local dentists in providing nearly $40,000 worth of free dental care along with health screenings for the children.
“There is substantial need for pediatric dental services in Pitt County and eastern North Carolina,” said Dr. Chris Cotterill, director of ECU’s residency program in pediatric dentistry. “The development of the dental school and the pediatric dental residency program are helping to produce general dental providers and pediatric dental specialty providers.”
Faculty, staff, residents, and students at the school’s community service learning centers in Ahoskie, Davidson County, Lillington, Robeson County, and Spruce Pine also held Give Kids a Smile® days, providing fluoride treatments, x-rays, cleanings, and comprehensive exams for a combined total of 127 children.
According to a 2016-2017 report by the NC Department of Health and Human Services Oral Health Section, 14.3% of the state’s kindergarten children have untreated tooth decay, 30.3% of pregnant women have untreated tooth decay, and 18.1% of adults aged 65 year and older have had all of their permanent teeth extracted.
The Community Service Learning Center-Spruce Pine servesprimarily Avery, Mitchell, Yancey, McDowell, and Burke Counties, where 14.5% of kindergarten children have untreated tooth decay, 33% of pregnant women have untreated tooth decay, and 22% of adults aged 65 years and older have had all of their permanent teeth extracted.
“The publicity generated by Give Kids a Smile® raises awareness of the importance of pediatric oral health,” said Dr. Dean Stacy, faculty director of the Spruce Pine center. “There are individual benefits to the specific child, and hopefully, family education benefits siblings as well.”
Local school nurses identified 35 children who qualified for the program in Spruce Pine. After providing dental exams, x-rays, and cleanings, Stacy’s teamsent the children home with printouts of their x-rays and treatment planshoping this might encourage parents to seek further treatment for their child.
“We’ve had several follow-up appointments,” said Stacy, “and several had such significant need that we referred them to pedodontists or comprehensive care via general anesthesia.”
Stacy believes that an increase in oral health education and awareness for families with children and a more consistent message from dental and medical providers would lead to more pro-active dental care.
Dr. Michael Bradley is faculty director at the center in Lillington, which serves mainly Harnett, Johnson, Wake, Lee, and Moore Counties. Bradley said the kindergarten decay rate in Harnett County is four times the rate in neighboring Wake County.
Bradley and his dental team had good support from Campbell University public health, pharmacy, and physical therapy students as well as students from Coastal Carolina Community College dental hygiene and dental assistant programs. The event took on a carnival atmosphere and health fair.
“We need more events like Give Kids a Smile® and total county efforts for children’s total health if we’re going to change current statistics,” said Bradley.
Dr. Craig Slotke, faculty director of the Robeson County center in Lumberton, observed that children in his center’s service area of Robeson, Scotland, Cumberland, and Columbus Counties have a high level of dental needs and many with above average amounts of decayed, missing, or filled teeth.
Slotke and his team provided cleanings, dental sealants, and fluoride treatments for 43 first grade students from Deep Branch Elementary School in Lumberton with assistance from pre-dental students from UNC-Pembroke.
“Many of the kids have had extensive care at a young age but then no follow-up. Seeing them at the first-grade level can help get them into a dental home. Many of them still have un-addressed needs,” said Slotke. “I’d like us to have more interaction with schools.”
Dr. Chris Cotterill believes there is a great need for education and resources to improve children’s oral health. “We need to help parents and families understand the importance of oral hygiene, proper nutrition, and oral health services,” he said. “We especially need providers who understand and will time to provide oral health education to patients.”
The dental school’s Give Kids a Smile® days have far reaching effects among the children, families, schools and organizations involved. Such outreach also makes an impression on the many volunteers and students involved. Approximately 30 ECU dental students were directly involved in caring for the children. Many of these students will soon be practicing in underserved areas of North Carolina.
Dr. Rob Tempel, associate dean for extramural clinical practices, works to support the CSLCs and ensure ECU priorities are in line with the needs of each community. “It’s an honor to serve North Carolina’s rural communities. Through events like Give Kids a Smile® and the care delivered in our clinics every day, our students and staff are improving the health of North Carolinians and providing access to high quality, affordable care,” he said.
The Give Kids A Smile® program was launched nationally in 2003 by the American Dental Association Foundation. So far, more than 5.5 million underserved children have received free oral health services. These free services are provided by approximately 10,000 volunteer dentists annually, along with 30,000 other dental team members.