The Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) at the University of Wyoming is collaborating with the State Dental Office and other oral health experts and stakeholders to brighten the smiles of preschool children across the state.
The “Healthy Teeth, Healthy Children” initiative is funded by a three year, $195,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. The program is intended to reduce instances of tooth decay in low income and underserved children; form community partnerships to implement comprehensive oral health programs for young children; and their families, and strengthen the Wyoming Oral Health Coalition to promote oral health and increase access to services for low income and underserved children and their families. The coalition was formed in 2002 to reduce statewide barriers to accessing oral health services.
“Tooth decay in the United States is the single most common chronic childhood disease, and children from low income families are particularly vulnerable,” says Pam Frisby, who coordinates the initiative through WIND’s Wyoming Head Start Collaboration project. “In Wyoming, barriers to dental care include a declining number of dental professionals compounded by an insufficient number of providers accepting low income clients, rural issues affecting access to services, increasing instances of tooth decay among preschool aged children, and a lack of a coordinated comprehensive system to promote oral health care.”
As part of a pilot project in Sheridan County, Frisby says WIND has contracted with a dental hygienist to serve as an oral health coordinator and track oral health services for low income and underserved children and their families. The oral health coordinator will ensure that all 6 month to 5 year old children attending Head Start, child development, and private preschool programs will have access to free dental screenings. The oral health coordinator also will serve as a resource for parents and oral health partners and will teach about the importance of preventative oral health care. Frisby says the program will be expanded to other counties in the project’s second and third years.
“We will gather baseline data from the pilot program and conduct a study to substantiate cost savings and improved oral health among the target population,” she says. “Results of the study will be provided to policy makers to support the feasibility of a statewide program.”
WIND and the Wyoming Oral Health Coalition also have produced several educational materials for young children, including an informational booklet titled “Tooth Truth from Gilly the ‘Gator,” and “Gilly the ‘Gator” stickers that remind children to brush and floss regularly.
WIND has been a part of the UW College of Health Sciences since 1994. As a member of the national network of University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service, WIND provides teaching, research, information services, and technical assistance. Its major functions include teaching, research, information dissemination, and service in the broad area of disabilities, particularly in the area of developmental disabilities.
For more information on the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Children initiative, contact Frisby at (307) 766 2454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.