Garfield County public health agencies sink teeth into dental program |

Garfield County public health agencies sink teeth into dental program

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo by Carrie Godes

A coalition of public health agencies from four counties has been working since 2008 to bring dental health to impoverished youngsters through a school-based program.

And according to a presentation to the Garfield County commissioners this week, it is working, as far as it goes.

“We do a lot of education,” said Carrie Godes, of Garfield County Public Health, explaining that many families either have no money to send their kids to dentists or do not understand the importance of dental care at an early age.

Teaching the kids, talking to parents and screening the kids for dental problems “just removes barriers” that may have gotten in the way in the past, she added.

Godes told the Board of County Commissioners on Nov. 16 that the school-based dental screening program has worked with 610 students at six schools in Garfield School District Re-2 and Garfield County School District 16 so far this year.

The program is scheduled to move into the Roaring Fork School District next, where the seven hygienists and 11 assistants are expecting to see another 250 kids.

“The benefits of the program are proving to be pretty positive,” Godes said.

So far, she reported, 97 of the kids seen need immediate dental care for everything from abscesses to cavities and rotten or broken teeth.

Another 171, she said, have cavities and other signs of decay. Most of the kids in this group, she explained, had more than one cavity, while for some, “their mouth was full of cavities.”

In addition to the screenings, the kids get free fluoride varnishes on their teeth, and sealants where applicable.

The goal, Godes said, is to see any child in kindergarten through the second grade who brings in a permission slip from home.

Plus, part of the program is to check on whether follow-up care occurs and the kids get the help they need, although Godes noted that the expense of dental work is a problem that has not been solved.

The program got its initial funding from a Caring For Colorado grant, for $112,000, to set up a program in Garfield, Delta, Montrose and Hinsdale counties from November 2008 through October 2009. Caring For Colorado is a private foundation working on health-care issues, and the grant is being administered by the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center in Mesa County.

“It’s a true public health issue in this county,” declared Commissioner Tresi Houpt about the program, asking, “How can we help?”

She invited a proposal for keeping the program going, and suggested the same proposal should be sent to neighboring counties.

“The key is to really figure out how to make it sustainable,” Houpt continued. “I’d hate to see all the work you’ve done so far to be lost.”

Commissioner John Martin said county support of the program should be in the Public Health Department’s budget, and might require a budgetary amendment of some sort for the coming year.

But Houpt countered that the county is one of the “integral partners” in the program and that funding requests and other matters should come straight to the county commissioners.

“Let’s see if you’re really committed to this,” Martin told Godes, “or if it’s just going to be one of those programs that come and go.”

Godes said a coalition of area public health and social services officials are working on a plan to help families get access to follow-up dental care. She said those officials are examining the models of other locales around the state, including ones in Summit County and Boulder County.

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