Local Nonprofit Has Made a Significant Difference in Dental Health of Area Children
Twenty years ago, the Council for a Healthier Community realized there was a desperate need in Cheshire County: Too many children were going without regular dental care and were living with cavities and misaligned teeth.
In 1996 Cheshire Smiles was conceived and became one of the first school-based dental programs in New Hampshire to provide access to free dental care for children in public schools, kindergarten through third grade.
Since then, Cheshire Smiles has become a model for some of the 20-plus public health school-based dental programs in the state.
And it is making a difference.
According to the 2015 New Hampshire Oral Health Data Report, there was a 50 percent reduction in untreated dental decay among third graders in Cheshire County, from 13 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2014.
This data is even more remarkable when you consider that Cheshire County has the lowest per capita number of dentists in the state and the dental indicator for adults has not moved.
Currently, Cheshire Smiles’ public health hygienists visit 23 schools throughout Cheshire County. They provide screenings and classroom education to all students in preschool through third grade and screenings and sealants at several middle schools.
Children who do not receive routine dental care are offered in-school preventive care, which may include a dental cleaning, oral hygiene instruction, fluoride treatments and sealant. Over the years, the free program has provided dental screenings for more than 23,000 school children; of those, more than 5,000 children were seen for preventive visits and more than 9,000 teeth were sealed.
Cheshire Smiles also provide referrals to local dental offices and to Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth Hitchcock-Keene’s Family Resource Counselor for assistance with NH Medicaid applications.
We spoke with Ann Mahoney, a hygienist with Cheshire Smiles (who works alongside hygienist Marcia Levesque) who says that the team will visit 24 schools in 2016.
She says that having the support of school nurses, principals, and staff, and dental and community volunteers (including Cheshire Smiles’ supervising dentist Stephen Hoffman), goes a long way into helping make the program successful.
“We have benefitted many children who have not been able to receive dental care because of family finances or barriers such as transportation or parents not being able to take time off from work,” she says. “Our goal is then to refer the children to establish a dental home to continue with needed restorative and routine care.”
Learn more about Cheshire Smiles Cheshire Smiles is located at 69V Island Street in Keene, New Hampshire, 603-313-9988.