ECU dental school kicks off Jones County school-based oral health program
The East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine kicked off a new program earlier this month that will provide oral health care and dental hygiene education to schoolchildren in Jones County.
The Jones County School-Based Oral Health Prevention Program will provide care to students at Trenton Elementary/Jones Senior High School as well as Maysville, Pollocksville and Comfort elementary schools. Enrolled participants can receive clinical services that include cleanings, radiographs, fluoride varnish, sealants, silver diamine fluoride, comprehensive and periodic exams and teledentistry exams.
The kick-off event was held Feb. 9 at Trenton Elementary; since then, nearly 10 students have received care and over 200 are currently enrolled.
“The program will be open to all Jones County children, regardless of insurance coverage,” said Rachel Stewart, project manager and public health dental hygienist at the ECU School of Dental Medicine. “Additionally, all children — not just those enrolled — will receive yearly oral hygiene education and oral hygiene supplies.”
Enrolled students requiring services beyond preventive care will be referred to the dental school’s campus facility, Ross Hall, for treatment in the pediatric clinic or at a dentist’s office of their choosing.
The program is jointly funded by the BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina Foundation and the Duke Endowment; in addition to planning funding, the school received a $400,000 implementation grant in late 2022.
The project is led by dental school faculty Dr. Wanda Wright, principal investigator; Dr. Michael Webb and Dr. Vanessa Pardi. Other clinical services will be provided by additional public health hygienists and ECU SoDM faculty.
“Dental disease is 100% preventable when consistent measures are taken to ensure that children have access to oral health care,” said Wright, the dental school’s division director of dental public health.
The program will build on the success of a similar Duke Endowment-funded program in Bertie County that the dental school that began in 2020. To date, nearly 900 schoolchildren have received care through that program.
During the Jones County kick-off event, program leaders joined Stewart in expressing their hopes for the future of the initiative.
“It really is another great way to celebrate Children’s Dental Health Month,” said Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the ECU School of Dental Medicine, adding that students and faculty recently participated in Give Kids a Smile, an annual event where children receive oral health care at no cost. “Though we are excited to participate in events like Give Kids a Smile, we wish that was not necessary; we hope that every child and adult across the state would have access to oral care.”
Daijah Davis, program director for the BCBS Foundation, leads the foundation’s efforts in oral health.
“High-quality, school-based oral health programs are community resources,” Davis said. “They open access to oral health care that may not have existed for some children.”
Davis said she spent time last summer with the hygienists who run the Bertie County program.
“I was so impressed with the care they provided to the children,” she said. “It was a fun environment; it was a caring environment, and I could just tell that each child they engaged with, they were considering everything that child needed that day.”
Jones County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ben Thigpen expressed thanks to ECU, the local community and the program sponsors for supporting the initiative in Jones County.
“We are exceptionally grateful,” he said, for the program that has the potential to “change things for this community and change the future for these kids.”