In 2007, Delta Dental of Michigan provided $250,000 to the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) to establish a fluoride varnish program in this state for 22,000 children enrolled in Head Start preschool programs. The Head Start children were targeted because they usually come from low-income households where tooth decay is more prevalent. The program was proposed to provide early education for parents and a preventive intervention for the children to reduce the incidence of tooth decay. “Many of the children in this group have little or no access to dental care, and the unfortunate result is that by the time they reach third grade, one in four Michigan children have untreated dental disease”, said Janet Olszewski, Director of Michigan Department of Community Health. “Fluoride varnish is safe, simple to apply, and an ideal treatment to offer in community based programs like Head Start,” said Thomas J. Fleszar, President and CEO of Delta Dental, “and our mission at Delta Dental is to improve oral health. I cannot think of a more appropriate initiative to support than “Varnish! Michigan”, he said.
Mid-Michigan District Health Department already employed a registered dental hygienist in 2007 to work on local dental health initiatives, and the agency was also committed to improving community oral health. MMDHD worked together with Central Michigan District Health Department and Ionia County Health Department, and partnered with Eight CAP, Inc Head Start to provide “Varnish! Mid-Michigan” throughout the jurisdiction of those agencies. The program was planned and coordinated to reach children at 22 Head Start locations throughout Montcalm, Gratiot, Ionia and Isabella Counties and the first applications were provided Beginning Oct 1, 2007.
One of the first program visits was scheduled at a Head Start center in Gratiot County where the Oral Health Coordinator (*OHC) met an American Indian child with waist-length black hair named “Jimmy”. The OHC wanted the classroom dental experience to be pleasant and friendly for the children, so she talked with them and showed them her flashlight (which was shaped like a frog) to put them at ease. Jimmy was not confident or eager to be seen at all though, so the OHC talked with him when the other children were finished to coax him to “visit” with her and let her “count his teeth”.
When Jimmy finally decided to cooperate that day the OHC was able to see that jimmy was fearful because of his dental condition. In 30 years of practicing as a registered dental hygienist the OHC had never seen a more advanced case of Early Childhood Caries (ECC). Several teeth were dead and rotten to the gum line and the OHC knew this child had experienced dental pain. The OHC documented the situation and shared the information with Head Start that very same day. But the program was new and the OHC wondered if anything would happen from there.
Six months later in April 2008, the OHC visited that Head Start Center in Gratiot again and Jimmy was still attending school at that location. The OHC saw his name on the class list and immediately remembered the child’s desperate dental condition. She was surprised when Jimmy no longer seemed fearful and came over to see her right away. The OHC shined her flashlight to access Jimmy’s oral health and was stunned and amazed to see the change in six months’ time. Jimmy now had stainless steel crowns covering all eight primary molars and all other primary teeth had been extracted. The extraction sites were completely healed and (toothless or not) Jimmy was sporting a million dollar smile! It was easy to see this happy child was no longer in pain. That moment is one the OHC will never forget. It was a career highlight.
As the OHC continued the visit with Jimmy and continued to document his situation that day the head Start teacher came over to talk. The teacher said, “When you visited our classroom last fall it was the beginning of the school year and we teachers had just met all of these children too. We didn’t understand that Jimmy had sore teeth then; we just assumed that he was a picky eater. But after your visit the main office called to tell us about Jimmy’s dental problems and visits were scheduled for him to see a local dentist. He visited the dentist often and he had a lot dental work completed this year. As time went by, we learned that Jimmy wasn’t a picky eater after all. He likes all kinds of foods! Now, Jimmy eats every meal like a wolf!”