Working together boosts N.H.'s oral health
Dental hygienists are a crucial part of any dental team and are greatly appreciated. Dr. Russ Ouellette recently wrote a piece ("Courage, a rare commodity," April 22-May 5 NHBR)about dental hygienists and the great work they do. Today, New Hampshire is No. 4 in the U.S. in terms of children's access to oral health care - and for a reason. It's because of all the hard work dentists and dental hygienists accomplish by working together to address access, need and a host of other issues.The dental system in New Hampshire works hard to offer the best possible services to New Hampshire. And, that system is working well. That is why the New Hampshire Dental Society continues to support a proven dental team model.There are many ways that New Hampshire dentists have effectively begun breaking down barriers to oral health. Last year the society released "Something to Smile About," a public education campaign to discuss with and educate the public on what actions the society is taking to address breaking down barriers to dental care.The plan outlines the achievements and progress that has been made over the past 10 years, and highlights the challenges with suggested solutions for the future.The Pew Center on the States recently recognized New Hampshire's hard work in its second annual "report card" grading the states' efforts at improving children's access to oral health care. Pew also awarded the state an overall report card grade of a B. And New Hampshire recently passed a law authorizing its Medicaid program to reimburse medical providers for preventive dental services for children age 0-3. Once that law is in effect it will give New Hampshire its sixth point, increasing the overall grade to an A.One of the biggest New Hampshire success stories is on the Seacoast at a center that Dr. Alphonse (Skip) Homicz and his dental team founded in 2003.Families First Dental Center, part of the community health center in Portsmouth, is an organization that offers affordable preventive, restorative and emergency oral health care to children or teens living in New Hampshire or Maine. From 2009 to 2010, Families First saw an increase of 26 percent in dental visits and provided care for 1,694 people at the on-site center. Their school-based program also screened 1,060 children and provided follow-up care as needed. Dr. Homicz also launched a mobile dental care program for the homeless that travels around the seacoast providing dental care to those in need.Another example is the Molar Express, an oral health access initiative launched by the North Country Health Consortium. In addition to its mobile dental health clinic, the Molar Express initiative increases awareness while promoting collaboration between health and human service providers to address oral health problems.New Hampshire is making great strides with breaking down access barriers in our state, in part because of the successful relationship between dentists and their oral health care team. We need to focus on barriers before we change the system, from lack of fluoridation, to financing care and utilization and oral health literacy, to name a few. It is crucial to address these barriers first, along with workforce, when trying to improve access to oral health care.Everyone deserves a dental home, but we cannot accomplish this alone. If the dental team continues to work together to move forward, we can also continue our successful work to end untreated dental disease in New Hampshire.Kevin D. Wilson, D.M.D., is president of the New Hampshire Dental Society.