Chiricahua pediatric clinics integrate preventive dental services with help of Delta Dental Grant


Press Release – Published in the Sierra Vista Herald April 26, 2017

SIERRA VISTA, DOUGLAS, AZ (March 28, 2017) – Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc. was awarded a $20,000 grant from Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation for the Oral Health Integration project. The funds for the grant will be used to increase access to preventive dental health services at the Pediatric Center of Excellence in Douglas and at Vista Pediatrics in Sierra Vista. A dental hygienist will be embedded into the pediatric clinics once per week so that children can receive oral health instruction, screening, education, sealants and varnishes as part of their medical visit. The service will be available to all children, including those who are uninsured or underinsured or who have special needs.

Sandi Ernst, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation wrote in the award letter, “We are pleased to be able to support [Chiricahua’s] work in the community toward improving oral health and providing critical dental services to the underserved and uninsured. Working together is the only way we can improve oral health outcomes for our state. Thank you for your ongoing commitment and hard work toward that end.”

The American Dental Association reported that 30 percent of the American population has difficulty accessing dental services through the current private dental system. Recent results from a First Things First Oral Health Report for 2016 indicated one-third of kindergarteners in Cochise County have untreated tooth decay and are in need of dental care. The American Dental Association concluded that these issues partially stem from the historical separation of medical and dental services in education, practice, and finance in the United States. There is a push toward an integrated approach to medical and dental care in the United States and Chiricahua is stepping up to the plate.

Dale Parry, DDS, FAGD, the director of dental services at Chiricahua said, “Medical health and dental health are intimately interdependent, as well as behavioral health. From a historic perspective, and even now in most private practice offices, dentists have worked in somewhat of a vacuum when it comes to information about a patient’s general health, prescription drugs, etc. With computer software that allows both dentists and physicians to access the patient’s charts we are more able to practice in an informed manner that leads to improved outcomes. Knowledge is power!”

The U.S. Surgeon General’s report Oral Health in America called oral diseases a “silent epidemic” affecting the most vulnerable citizens. The report stressed the conclusion that oral health was “essential to the general health and well-being of Americans,” and obtaining good oral health is achievable for even the most disadvantaged. What they may lack is education.

By including oral health into pediatric well-child visits, Registered Dental Hygienists have the opportunity to educate parents and children on good oral hygiene practices to from the beginning of a child’s life. Julie Gamez, RDH began providing oral health instruction, a preventative dental screening, and fluoride varnishes once per week at the Chiricahua Vista Pediatrics clinic in Sierra Vista this month. She said, “I am really enjoying seeing the infants and talking to parents about good oral hygiene habits for their children.”

She emphasizes the dangers of “baby bottle tooth decay” as why infants should never be put to bed with a bottle. Sleeping with a bottle allows the bacteria in the baby’s mouth to change the sugars in the milk or juice into acids that dissolve tooth enamel. She reminds parents to wipe down infant’s gums with a clean wash cloth, or preferably with a xylitol wipes after bottle or breast-feeding to keep their mouths healthy. Additionally, parents should be helping their children brush until they are at least 6 years old.

The Delta Dental Grant will largely be applied to the purchase of portable equipment for applying sealants to patient’s teeth in the pediatric clinics. Two dental hygiene portable stations are being purchased in order to bring this service to Vista Pediatrics in Sierra Vista and the Pediatric Center of Excellence in Douglas. In the interim, Dental Hygienists will continue to provide oral health instruction, screenings, and fluoride varnishes once per week at each location.

Gamez stressed that this service was not a replacement for a full dental cleaning and exam at the dental office. Chiricahua applied for this grant in order to bring dental screening, prevention and instruction to their patients who may not be receiving any dental care at all. Gamez said, “We often do not see children until they are 8 or 9 years old, and usually not unless there is a problem.” She added, “With good prevention, those uncomfortable visits may not have to happen. Tooth decay and cavities are completely preventable, yet it is the most common childhood illness.”

Don’t be surprised if your next well child visit at Vista Pediatrics or the Pediatric Center of Excellence includes time with a dental hygienist as part of the effort to ensure providers at Chiricahua are treating the whole person.

Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc. is a mission-driven Federally Qualified Health Center and is a tax exempt not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. It was founded as a grassroots community effort in 1996 as a makeshift clinic in Elfrida’s small community center and has since grown to be the largest primary care organization in southeastern Arizona. Chiricahua Community Health Centers currently has seven clinics in Bisbee, Douglas, Elfrida and Sierra Vista and four mobile medical and dental units that serve rural Cochise County.

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