Reaching Out - Dental Education in the Classroom Lets Families Know About MCHC


November 2012

At Mendocino Community Health Clinic (MCHC), reaching out to underserved populations can prove challenging. The organization serves patients who speak both English and Spanish and have a wide range of literacy and access to information. While word of mouth continues to be the most effective way to reach out to new patients, programs such as the Smiles school-based dental education program also help families learn that they can receive high quality, low-cost health care in their own community.

The Smiles program is staffed by HealthCorps Navigators who are trained to educate school children about oral hygiene. The program offers comprehensive education for students from preschool through high school. Age-appropriate instruction reviews proper brushing techniques and information about what causes cavities. For young students, HealthCorps Navigators use puppets to make the education fun and engaging. For high school students, instruction includes additional health topics relevant to teens such as the hazards of smoking and eating disorders, and the importance of braces

HealthCorps Navigators team up with dental professionals to assess the health of the students' teeth, and if problems are identified, families are informed. The Smiles program also offers fluoride varnish to all students with parental consent. Fluoride varnish is a protective coating that is painted on teeth to help prevent new cavities (and slow the development of existing cavities). Fluoride varnish is painless, and quick and easy to apply.

The damage from dental disease goes beyond dental pain and infection. Dental disease can affect speech development, the ability to learn, and self-esteem. Small children with decayed teeth are often unable to eat nourishing foods, resulting in poor growth or even failure to thrive. Children experiencing dental pain are distracted and unable to concentrate on schoolwork, often resulting in poor school performance.

In addition to dental care, MCHC offers medical and behavioral health care services. To learn more, call (707) 468-1010.

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