When the Public Life Foundation addressed the plight of children in need of dental care in the January 2006 issue of Public Life Advocate in the article, “Dental Care for poor youth ‘a huge, huge need’ ” by Benjamin Hoak, we found much to support about the issues presented. However, there were some errors in the information presented that we feel misrepresent the Owensboro Public Schools.
Because we take a deep interest in helping children meet both educational and physical needs and have the help of several very dedicated local dentists in providing care for our students, we feel that a clarification of what is taking place in this community is necessary.
The January article began by relating an incident in which an Owensboro High School student in dire need of having a tooth pulled, resorted to pulling the tooth himself. The sequence of the events, as related in the story, painted a picture that might leave some readers wondering why the school did not provide more help.
In reality, there was more to the story. Last spring, when the student reported his tooth problem to the school nurse, she called his mother and was assured that the student had a dental appointment to take care of the problem. He was provided Tylenol to relieve the immediate pain. The school had no reason to believe that the boy’s mother would not seek treatment for her son as she said she would do.
The student did not return to the nurse for several months. One day last fall, the student came to school in pain from an unrelated injury. At that time, he went to the assistant principal and reported having pulled his tooth at home that day. All OHS staff could do at this point was to take the student home. Sadly, had he returned to the school nurse prior to taking such drastic action and told her he still had a problem, arrangements could have been made to get him the medical help he needed.
Mr. Hoak’s article talked about the Foust Elementary School dental program. A featured quote in the article stopped short of what Foust Family Resource Director Beth Murphy said in her interview for the story. The quote said that “…more than half (of Foust Elementary School’s 378 students) have never been to a dentist.” What we understand that Mrs. Murphy actually said is that more than half of Foust’s students don’t have a dental home (i.e., a family dentist). With parental consent, every child at Foust is offered a free dental screening as well as other services.
While Owensboro and other school districts do all they can to help students get much needed dental care, there is no question that there is a tremendous gap. There are promising models such as the Foust Elementary School model that was featured in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Kentucky Teacher Magazine in October 2004.
Foust’s program was created about 12 years ago when Dr. Mike Johnson began working with the school district nurse to help provide dental care to students who would not otherwise see a dentist. Today, while less than half of Foust’s students report having seen a family dentist, every child at Foust has the opportunity for dental care through the joint effort of the Family Resource Center, the Green River District Health Department, a dental health grant, and Dr. Johnson.
The program’s goal is to get dental care to those who need it most, but can afford it least. Several local dentists participate in this or similar programs and volunteer time to do screenings and to see those children for little or no compensation. All children in the participating schools are offered free dental screenings. The students then are triaged into different levels of needed care. Every child who is eligible gets dental sealants on adult molars, which according to the program is the best decay preventative. Preventative care and education are making a tremendous difference for students in these programs.
There are several dentists who routinely help OPS students by providing screenings and care. However, a huge obstacle that many of our children face is the extremely limited number of dentists who will take a child on a state medical card for care. The fact that there are limited numbers of providers in our area to provide care for hundreds of children who have state medical cards or no insurance at all has really created a tremendous burden on these dentists who do help us. Unfortunately, the state’s compensation rate to dentists serving state medical card children is not sufficient to cover the cost of the care or even the supplies the dentists use in treatment. Funding for needy children not covered by a state medical card is also very limited.
The Owensboro Public Schools work tirelessly to meet the physical as well as educational needs of its students and we welcome your help in getting more dental health care for the children who need it in this community.