NYU Dental outreach program gives kids healthier teeth for free
HUDSON–The New York University dental team returned on Monday to continue its outreach program for local children. Since it started in 2008 treating Head Start kids at the Crosswinds community room, NYU College of Dentistry has expanded its reach to include John L. Edwards Elementary and M.C. Smith Intermediate Schools.
Now called the NYU College of Dentistry Henry Schein Cares Global Outreach Program, the program has partnered with a major medical philanthropic organization willing to commit to providing free dental care to Hudson children for five years. Henry Schein CaresIn addition to funding, HSI also provides all the masks, gloves, dental towels, tooth paste, fluoride varnish and other supplies the program uses.
This week a group of NYU dental residents, students, hygienists and faculty will treat around 300 children, including 30 to 40 from the Head Start program, at makeshift offices it sets up in the two schools. Some children will see the dentist for the first time, while others will return for routine checkups. The team of six pediatric dentists, six hygienists and four students offers full service dental care, from exams and preventative work to restorative and surgical treatments.
Dr. Neal Herman, who teaches pediatric dentistry at NYU, said the team returns four times a year to Hudson. NYU, the largest dental college in the world, operates a huge local and international outreach program that allows dentists undergoing training to broaden their experience while helping underserved communities.
Hudson is one of four outreach locations in the U.S.; the others are Harlem in New York City, and communities in Alaska and Maine, which will start up this fall. The teams also treat patients in Granada, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Tanzania. Dr. Herman said he hopes that dentists who get involved in outreach work during their training will incorporate it into their practices later on.
“The objective is to get new dentists out of the office and to help kids that would not be able to afford dental care,” he said.
“Many kids in Hudson are generally underserved because there are few pediatric dentists here, and few take Medicaid. There is only one pediatric dentist near Hudson, in Catskill, and we work with him,” said NYU faculty member Jill Fernandez, director of pediatric outreach.
Dr. Fernandez, who has accompanied the team to Hudson on each of its visits, so often she now recognizes the parents and children who come for care, teaches a dental hygiene workshop for parents as part of the outreach program.
“Sixty-five percent of all children in the U.S. have perfect teeth,” said Dr. Herman. “But in some rural and impoverished areas, where diets are not optimal, decay rates are high.” While Hudson children have fared better in terms of dental health than children in Granada, they have a rate of cavities that is higher than some other areas in the U.S., with the rate of cavities here at around 40% for children under 12 versus 35% for those in New York City.
Of all the factors affecting tooth decay, including hygiene, professional care and diet, diet is the hardest to improve, said Dr. Herman. If someone consumes food that is high in carbohydrates and sugars–the foods that mouth bacteria thrive on–cavities result.
The City of Hudson does not add fluoride to its water supply, though many urban water systems do, because it prevents cavities. But brushing twice a day and drinking water instead of juice or sweetened soft drinks might be equally important interventions, said Dr. Herman. Fluoride is also added to many toothpastes, and the dental team applies it in the form of a varnish that lasts up to four months to children’s teeth to give them added protection from decay.
In addition to being free, the program is efficient. Children are called from class to come to their appointments and don’t have to linger in waiting rooms. Parents don’t need to leave work or organize transportation. Best of all, three years into the program, far fewer children are walking around with undiagnosed dental pain, a problem that can seriously affect the learning process.