May 24, 2002
Volume XXXV, No. 21



UTHSC, Methodist Healthcare Ministries take oral health to schools

PHOTO San Antonio-area children will have access to in-school oral health clinics thanks to the innovation of (L-R) Sherry Jenkins, a dental hygienist for the Texas Department of Health, Joe Babb, director of clinical services for Methodist Healthcare Ministries, and UTHSC's Kathy Guerink, clinical associate professor of dental hygiene.

Dental decay is the single largest disease children face. Soon, children in area schools with no existing oral health care programs will be able to visit an in-school dental health clinic with the same ease as visiting a school nurse.

Students at John Glenn Elementary School in the East Central Independent School District and Norma Krueger Elementary in the Marion Independent School District will be the first to participate in a model oral health program geared toward prevention, treatment and education.

It's all thanks to a $250,000 Robert Wood Johnson grant and a collaboration between the Health Science Center Dental School and dental hygiene department, Methodist Healthcare Ministries and the Texas Department of Health.

To start, the oral health of all second- and seventh-graders will be evaluated at the schools this month. Those students will have sealants applied in May. "Applying sealants to the teeth of children in those grades is crucial because that is the age when permanent molars erupt into the oral cavity," said Kathy Geurink, UTHSC clinical associate professor of dental hygiene.

Prevention includes applying sealants and providing fluoride treatments, mouth guards for sports, oral hygiene instruction, nutritional information and early intervention on tobacco use.

Teachers can refer students to the school-based clinic, where treatment including emergency, diagnostic, preventive and restorative care will be provided. Children requiring specialty care will be referred to dentists in the community.

School personnel and parents will participate in the program's oral health education, which also will be integrated into the school's curriculum. "We will work with teachers to make the oral health education grade specific," Geurink said. "We'll teach younger students that healthy teeth and gums are important for smiling and talking."

Dental hygiene students in Geurink's community course will use hands-on activities to help explain what sealants are and how they are applied so that the children will better understand the process and won't be afraid when it is their turn.

Both school-based oral health clinics are set to start treatment in the fall. They will become part of the school-based health centers operated by Methodist Healthcare Ministries. A full-time dental hygienist, a part-time dental assistant and a dentist, will serve the oral health needs of the school-age children. If all goes well, the model program will be replicated in other schools in underserved areas of South Texas.