Smiles Ahead Oral Health Program
Arbor Family Health (previously Innis Community Health Center) has been working to combat oral health disease with a focused approach since 2009. Poor oral health can put kids at a serious disadvantage at school and this effect is magnified for socioeconomically disadvantaged children. Taking time from school for dental work may not seem like a big deal, but 51 million school hours are lost each year due to a dental related illness. Arbor Family Health is partnering with school-based health systems throughout the state to include oral health as a part of children’s primary health exams and providing services where children spend the majority of their time… SCHOOL.
The focused initiative began through an initial grant with HRSA- Office of Federal Rural Health Policy grant funded program which began in 2009 with a 3 year grant targeting children’s oral health in a primary care setting. This has evolved into what is now known as the Smiles Ahead program in school based health centers. Over the last ten years these oral health efforts have improved health access for children in rural areas by training providers to perform focused oral health assessments during physical exams and applying preventative fluoride varnish to reduce cavities in children. Fluoride varnish is a proven and recommended best practice that is effective in reducing decay in the primary teeth of high-risk children. To date, the Smiles Ahead program has performed over 10,000 oral health assessments and more than 8,500 applications of fluoride varnish.
As the Smiles Ahead program has grown, the oral health needs identified by the program have highlighted the need to provide support for children to find permanent dental homes. Shockingly, most children did not receive routine dental visits even though it is covered in their insurance plans. Each Smiles Ahead site now incorporates dental case management to coordinate care and tackle barriers regarding routine and problematic dental care for students.
In addition to oral health assessments, fluoride varnish treatments, and dental case management; Smiles Ahead also provides oral health education in order to influence and improve students’ overall oral health status.
Providing prevention services including fluoride varnish and education can aid in optimal dental health for children. The “mouth” oral health system is just as important as the other body systems and so Arbor Family Health is not taking the mouth out of the body.