Soule: Improving dental health at Cayuga County elementary schools

Soule: Improving dental health at Cayuga County elementary schools


East Hill Family Medical has a program that brings dental services into local elementary schools to take care of children’s dental care needs.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic infectious disease for our nation’s children. While the majority of people understand the importance of dental care, occasionally we hear people say they don’t know why they should care about a child’s first set of teeth, as they just fall out eventually. In fact, so-called baby teeth have really important jobs, such as helping form a child’s jaw, help with eating and ensuring proper nutrition, and developing lifelong speech patterns.

Standards recommend that parents should take their children to the dentist by age 1, or six months after the first few teeth come in. The best thing to do is establish a routine around brushing. Around age 2, let them begin to put the toothpaste on the brush themselves. If they are struggling with brushing or flossing, consider making a chart where they get stickers for brushing both times daily and flossing.

According to New York state, 60% of all children, ages 5 to 16, have cavities. In Cayuga County, two out of every five third-graders have untreated tooth decay, according to the state Bureau of Dental Health Data. There are only three counties that have higher rates of tooth decay for third-graders of all the New York counties outside of New York City. In response to this need in our community, East Hill Family Medical partners with several school districts to offer dental exams and services at the school to streamline oral care for our community’s youth. Families of all income levels are impacted by this topic, which is why having services in schools works so well — all children have the same chance of getting the care they need.

The dental staff takes X-rays and performs exams, dental cleanings and limited dental work, such as filling cavities, at the following elementary schools: Herman, Owasco, Genesee, Casey Park, Seward and A.A. Gates. The program offers sealants to students in second and third grade in Southern Cayuga and Cato school districts, and also works with Auburn’s Head Start program.

Dental assistant Ann Musso thanked the dedicated staff members of the schools she works in, adding that school staff members from all levels support and assist the School-Based Dental Program, which makes the program more successful.

“The principals are very good to us. They know the program,” Musso added. “It’s nice to be in the schools and see the kids. It’s always a nice change going from school to school and seeing the kids each year.”

Hygienist Joanne Elser leads the educational component, telling students about sealants, which is a material that is applied to molars to fill in grooves that are hard-to-reach places for toothbrush bristles. The sealants help prevent bacteria that cause decay and cavities.

Parents are an important partner in reaching our overall goal of having children with healthy and strong teeth. Children can be seen for the program regardless of what insurance they have, as long as the paperwork has been submitted. Besides filling out the School-Based Dental Program paperwork completely, parents can help set the stage by telling their children not to be nervous when they see the dental staff. Often this school-based dental program is the first experience children have with a dentist, Musso said. It’s so important to get children started early in proper oral care.

After the dentist examines a child, a list of needed services is sent home. Parents can decide if they want the work done at the school-based clinic setting, at East Hill’s main office or elsewhere.

If parents still need to sign up their children in the nine schools East Hill visits, they can call (315) 283-5288 to get the paperwork again.

Tips for healthy teeth

• Never share a toothbrush. They may contain bacteria that are also shared, and that’s what causes cavities.

• Brush twice a day: once in the morning after you eat breakfast, and again before going to bed.

• Change your brush every three months.

• When you floss, wrap the thread around your middle finger so you can use your index finger to control the floss.

• Limit candies and sugary drinks — try drinking water instead.

Jessica Soule, MPH, is the director of strategic partnerships for East Hill Family Medical, a patient-centered medical home in Auburn that offers adult medicine and addiction, dental, reproductive health and pediatric services. She can be reached at (315) 253-8477 ext. 509 or


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