Dental Care at Chanute Elementary School

Team Provides Preventative Dental Care at Chanute Elementary School

Story and photo by  Connie Woodard, USD 413 Public Relations
Originally published by The Chanute Tribune

Every year, dental screenings take place at Chanute Elementary School and parents are notified if their children may need to see a dentist. This year a cooperative effort with Community Health Care of SEK is stepping up to provide preventive dental care services to children.

The school’s Communities in Schools coordinators Rachel Harrington and Angie VanLeeuwen approached Principal Matt Koester about some students who’d been referred to them who needed dental care. They suggested coordinating preventive dental services through the SEK clinic based in Iola. 

On Monday, three women from Community Health, pulling portable tables and dental equipment and lugging totes of supplies, set up “shop” in a hallway classroom and began cleaning teeth, offering fluoride and sealant services to help prevent tooth decay.

“This is a schoolwide event, available to any student at CES,” Harrington said. 

By the end of last week, 139 students had signed up to receive the care and more forms were still coming in from parents. 

Because of the overflow, an additional day or two will be set to schedule dental care for those who don’t get treated this week, as well as others who continue to return permission forms signed by their parents. The return date has not yet been scheduled. 

Koester said that local dental hygienists through Dr. Jones’ office, and now Dr. Gastineau’s office, volunteer their time to screen CES students. The number with chronic dental needs is on the rise.

“During these screenings, the dental staff marked kids as: good to go, need to visit a dentist, or have a chronic need,” Koester said. “Last year we had 29 kids marked chronic and our nursing staff works very hard to follow up with these families to try and get them into a dentist.”

Some of the barriers that prevent kids from getting dental care are lack of transportation, the inability of parents to get off work for dental appointments, they don’t have a dentist they see regularly, or they lack insurance, Harrington said.

“One of the biggest deterrents to kids getting to the dentist is that the nearest dentist who accepts Medicaid insurance is 20 miles away,” Koester said. “Taking off work to get kids to the dentist or sometimes finding transportation to get there is not easy for families. By having the CHC come into the school, we eliminate these barriers and kids can get the dental care needed. Our partnership with Communities in Schools as well as the Community Health Clinic of Southeast Kansas is the right thing to do for kids.”

There is absolutely no cost associated with the services.

“This is free to the schools and free to the families,” Harrington said. “We’re super excited about this.”

Likewise, Community Health Care of SEK was willing to add Chanute Elementary to the list of schools for which it provides services in southeast Kansas.

Liz Wehlage, RDH-ECP3 with a Master’s degree in public health, said that her organization takes care of 36 school districts in southeast Kansas. In total, they serve 122 schools in 14 counties. By adding Chanute, they now have 37 school districts.

“Our outreach program has been very active the last 10 years and we do have a few dentists who do restorative care,” Wehlage said, adding that it’s a service they want to expand.

“When we have dentists dedicated to outreach, that’s when it can happen,” she added. “We are always trying to expand our dental care to allow for that.”

It takes 15 to 20 minutes to provide all three preventive services to a child. That means each hygienist will see about 15 students each day this week.

Having these services inside the school building is a good solution for some families. Also, the children tend to be more relaxed when they come for dental care in a school environment, a setting familiar to them, Harrington said.

“These services were open to all students at CES but we were really targeting kids who are not already seeing a dentist,” Koester said. “We will be reaching around 150 kids this week with dental services that without this partnership would have continued to do without.”