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In Focus

Bringing Dental Care to Communities Who Need it Most

By February 15, 2018Community Health
Kids Smiles

I’ve worked in pediatric dentistry for more than half of my life, so children’s dental health has always been very important to me. I firmly believe that starting regular dental check-ups and teaching good oral hygiene from a young age are essential to creating a strong foundation for good oral health throughout one’s life. I’ve worked as a dental hygienist for the past nine years at Kids Smiles, a non-profit children’s dental organization in Philadelphia. In this role, I have helped to put thousands of kids on the right track towards a life of healthy smiles. We open our centers in underserved neighborhoods in order to provide dental care to those who need it the most.

Fighting Tooth Decay, One Child at a Time

This past summer Kids Smiles asked me to participate in an Early Childhood Caries Prevention Project. The goal of this project is to decrease the amount of tooth decay in children ages 4 and under. In a country where tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, programs like these are crucial. As part of this program, we go out into the community and provide dental screenings and fluoride varnish in schools, educate children and their parents about good oral health, and follow up with parents via phone calls. As part of a study on children’s dental health, we also collect information about the prevalence of early childhood caries in the hopes of decreasing the overall tooth decay rate.

When I speak to parents over the phone, I let them know about any findings during the screenings, such as possible decay, and I make sure that their child has a regular dentist. If they don’t have a dentist, I am able to schedule an appointment for them at Kids Smiles.

Taking the Fear Out of Dental Check-ups

At first, I was hesitant to leave the comfort of the dental clinic to go out into the schools to perform screenings, but now I’m so glad that I did. Not only has it allowed me to apply my dental hygiene skills in different ways, but it has also been very rewarding. Many kids are nervous when they come into the dental clinic because the office is strange and unfamiliar. However, when we go into their school — a place that the children are familiar with — they are so much more at ease. In fact, many are actually excited for us to look at their teeth! I’ve also received a lot of positive feedback from parents when I follow up with them. They are appreciative that we call to give them information about their children’s dental health.

A Rewarding Experience

However, by far, the most rewarding part of this whole project has been seeing the children that I first saw in the schools actually come into the clinic to receive the care they need. Sometimes the appointment is for a regular dental check-up, other times it’s to address a dental issue that is causing the child pain. It’s the definitive moment in which you can say to yourself that you really are helping to make a difference in the life of a child. It’s also nice to introduce myself to the parents so they can put a face to the voice they heard over the phone, making their visit a bit more personal.

Improving Children’s Dental Health with the Help of the IBC Foundation

Better dental health means better overall health, which leads to an improved quality of life. Support from the IBC Foundation’s Blue Safety Net Program helps Kids Smiles to spread this message and provide dental care to so many families in the communities that we serve. It also helps us decrease tooth decay rates and teach children and their parents about the importance of a healthy mouth. By doing this, hopefully we can help a generation of kids achieve bright smiles and bright futures!

 

Christie Palmer

Christie Palmer is a lifelong Philadelphian and began her career in pediatric dentistry 18 years ago as a front desk associate of a local dental office. After pursuing education and certification as a registered dental hygienist, she became a team member at Kids Smiles where she has worked for nine years.

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