As the AmeriCorps Outreach Coordinator for Heartland Health Centers dental and oral health services, I am primarily placed at Chicago Public High Schools to explore barriers to adolescents receiving appropriate dental care. Oral health is not simply the absence of dental disease, but rather oral health care aims to treat the entire individual and is influenced by patient experience while impacting one’s mental and physical well-being. Dental care is the most unmet health need and oral health can also severely impact systemic health. Therefore, interdisciplinary care is needed to achieve optimal oral health and overall health. Tooth decay affects more children than any other chronic disease in the United States, but dental caries are highly preventable.
School-based oral health programs, such as Heartland Health Centers, provide preventable dental services to children that might not otherwise be available to them. This allows parents to not need to take their children out of school, take a day off from work, or handle transportation issues getting to the dental office. More specifically, school-based oral health programs act as an important health care safety net access point for preventable dental services to underserved populations that usually have higher rates of untreated decay and lower rates of preventable dental sealants. Children who receive dental sealants through school-based oral health programs have 60% less new tooth decay in their molars (where 90% of children’s tooth decay is found).
Currently, I am focusing my efforts at Nicholas Senn High School and Theodore Roosevelt High School. Through surveys and focus groups, I am gathering information about the priority of dental care in the target student population and how the dental clinic can better meet the needs of the students we serve. As a National Health Corps Chicago member, I was given the opportunity to become trained in health coaching and motivational interviewing. By using these skills, I can greater contribute to understanding the behaviors of the students I encounter and encourage students to explore the benefits of good oral health. Through these interactions, I can help students set SMART goals to brush their teeth more often, eat healthier foods, and attend dental appointments. In order to incentivize students to achieve these goals, I created the Traveling Teeth Passport Challenge.. Interested participants will receive a passport with 6 tasks; once all 6 tasks are completed they will receive a whitening kit at no cost. Tasks range from completing a dental treatment plan to sharing one thing they like about their smile.
In conclusion, the goal of my host-site and my year of service is to empower students to take charge of their oral health, ensure that they are taking steps to complete their dental treatment plan, and gain the confidence to #shareasmile.
This blog post was written by 2018-19 NHC Chicago member Stephanie Blagaich.
Stephanie is an Outreach Coordinator at Heartland Health Centers.