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THHS Dental and state programs team up to screen elementary students

By B.L. Azure
THHS PIO

Dr. Darby Lefler and dental assistant Nicole Main check out the chompers of a young Arlee Elementary School student. (B.L. Azure photo) Dr. Darby Lefler and dental assistant Nicole Main check out the chompers of a young Arlee Elementary School student. (B.L. Azure photo)

ARLEE — Dentists from Tribal Health teamed with private dentists from the state and spent a day at Arlee Elementary School screening the dental health of the young students who no doubt had the summer vacation on their minds. But first things first: Open wide.

The Tribal Health and private practice dentists were working in tandem under the auspices of a five-year grant administered by the state.

“We are screening the kids for easy identifiable problems now and for potential issues that could pop up in the future,” said Dr. Garry Pitts, Tribal Health and Human Services Dental Program manager. “We are also placing sealants on permanent molars and applying a fluoride varnish.”

The lines were constant at the recent cooperative dental screening effort by Tribal Health and Montana private practice dentists. (B.L. Azure photo) The lines were constant at the recent cooperative dental screening effort by Tribal Health and Montana private practice dentists. (B.L. Azure photo)

Pitts said the local effort was part of a national dental care effort entitled “Sealing for Smiles.”

Dr. Bridget Schrampfer, who oversees the five-year grant that is now in its third year, said the outreach effort at Arlee has grown each year to reach 140 students this year. Two schools participated the first year of the program; 45 schools participated this year. Statewide the outreach program serves approximately 7,000 K-6 students.

“All states have these types of programs,” Schrampfer said. “But Montana is unique because of the use of community dentists. The children here see a lot of familiar faces so they have good level of comfort with them.”

She added that the private practice dentists engage the children and assist their families in finding a family dentist. They also ask them about any type of healthcare coverage they may or may not have and can help parents access applicable insurance or healthcare programs.

Any cavities? Only one way to find out — open wide and let’s take a peak. (B.L. Azure photo) Any cavities? Only one way to find out — open wide and let’s take a peak. (B.L. Azure photo)

“Our overall goal is to reduce tooth decay in our youth,” Schrampfer said. “Many, many hours of school time are lost because of tooth pain. We want to help minimize that and keep kids in school learning.”

The state outreach effort keeps data on the children’s dental health but does not take the children’s names. They provide the data information to the schools and to the program grantee as well as provide reports to dentists.

Tribal Health dentists also keep track of the data on their service clientele. And that data is a good way to gauge the success of not only the national effort but also the local efforts.

Pitts said the THHS Dental Program has many outreach efforts throughout the year aimed at tribal youth. One of the biggest rewards of the outreach effort is that young children establish a positive non-threatening relationship with THHS dentists.

Dental practitioners from Tribal Health and Montana private practice provided screenings to Arlee Elementary students under the auspices of a five-year grant. (B.L. Azure photo) Dental practitioners from Tribal Health and Montana private practice provided screenings to Arlee Elementary students under the auspices of a five-year grant. (B.L. Azure photo)

“When a youngster observes their friends in the (dental) chair smiling and talking to the dentist they want to jump right into the chair,” Pitts said. “We do our outreach effort because of the convenience factor — it’s easier to bring care to them. We don’t do any dental treatments in the field for problems we find. We contact the family and make them aware of what needs to be done then schedule to do the care.”

Pitts said the team outreach effort is a good way to ensure that all children receive the benefits of the effort. And that benefit means a lot of big toothy smiles under the Big Sky of Montana.

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