Oral health program expands with more screenings, education for young children

Published on June 08, 2017

When a child is extra squirmy or a bit shy, Michele Eastwood knows it’s time to enlist the help of her trusted assistants. She reaches for two stuffed animals with cartoonishly large teeth — a yellow dog and a blue dragon — and starts to examine their gums.

The dental professional is passionate about the services she provides for Placer County’s “Dental Days” events. In her regular job at Rockville Smiles, a pediatric dentist office in Roseville, she’s honed the ability to calm down anxious toddlers and get a peek inside their mouths. It’s a skill she now brings to the Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, office on Sunset Boulevard in Rocklin twice a month.

WIC serves families with limited resources, encouraging healthy diet and lifestyle choices through education, support and vouchers. At Dental Days, WIC participants with children under 5 years of age can receive information about oral hygiene, insurance coverage and providers. Children are visually screened for tooth decay, and fluoride varnish applied to their teeth for protection. Eastwood then refers families to local dental providers for follow-up care and they go home with free dental supplies.

“We are trying to connect families with ‘dental homes,’” or long-term relationships with dental providers, said Heidi Knost, a public health nurse who coordinates the program.

Dental Days are funded by First 5 Placer and stem from the new Children’s Oral Health Program, which targets the county’s youngest residents and aims to keep them cavity-free.

“We want children to start their periodic exams by first tooth or first birthday,” Knost said. “A lot of parents don’t know to start so early.”

Many WIC participants also aren’t aware that as long as they have Medi-Cal, they also have Denti-Cal — or they don’t know any local providers. Moreover, many parents assume that baby teeth aren’t important, Eastwood said. But brushing baby teeth or even wiping them down with a washcloth, in the case of babies, can prevent bacteria from taking hold.

“We always think that’s our practice set,” she explained. “But they are holding space.”

The Oral Health Program also includes the Oral Health Alliance, a county-wide collaborative comprised of healthcare providers, community organizations and others who come together to coordinate dental services.

Shalendra Mudaliar moved to the United States just two months ago from Fiji, and his family came to WIC as they acclimated to their new country. On a recent Thursday, Eastwood examined their son and recommended they try flavored toothpaste given his stubborn refusal of the regular variety.

“We are very grateful,” Mudaliar said. “[We know] what precautions we can take in the future for him to have a healthy smile.”

Dental Days in Rocklin are held twice a month, but will expand to four times monthly starting in July. Dental Days at the WIC site in Auburn begin on July 25 and will continue on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Visit the
Children’s Oral Health Program website for hours and more information.