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Sharing the keys to a healthy life

MCH program: Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes celebrates 10 years of working with area schoolchildren

  • Hygenist Pam Delahanty of Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes cleans students' teeth at Temple Elementary School
  • Hygenist Pam Delahanty of Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes cleans students' teeth at Temple Elementary School
  • Hygenist Pam Delahanty of Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes cleans students' teeth at Temple Elementary School
  • Hygenist Pam Delahanty of Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes cleans students' teeth at Temple Elementary School
  • Hygenist Pam Delahanty of Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes cleans students' teeth at Temple Elementary School
  • Hygenist Pam Delahanty of Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes cleans students' teeth at Temple Elementary School

“The mouth is the portal to the body,” says Louise Danforth, the program coordinator for the Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes program. “Dental care is crucial for children, but many kids don’t regularly see a dentist. We’re trying to change that.”

Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is best known for providing free dental screenings, teeth cleanings, and instruction on hygiene to preschool and elementary schoolchildren in the ConVal, Jaffrey-Rindge and Mascenic school districts. The program is run by Monadnock Community Hospital, where Danforth works as a program coordinator in the Social Services Department.

“For some kids, we’re the only dental service they’ll see,” Danforth says.

Many families, especially if they lack insurance, just can’t afford dental care. And sometimes it’s hard for families on Medicaid to find a practitioner, since dentists, unlike doctors, are not required to accept Medicaid patients.

So Pamela Delahanty, a registered dental hygienist, has been spending the last 10 years visiting schools, preschools and Head Start centers around the region, spending her time first talking to children about oral health — usually in her costume as “The Tooth Fairy’s Helper” — and then providing teeth cleanings and advice to children who qualify for assistance.

“We reach close to 2,000 kids for education each year, and I do about 200 cleanings annually,” Delahanty said on Monday at Temple Elementary School, where she had set up her state-of-the-art equipment to do some cleanings.

“We don’t compromise on equipment,” Delahanty said. “We have an intra-oral camera. You can do a tour of the mouth, take pictures to show kids. It’s very much like going to the dentist, and they love it.”

Delahanty said cost is just one of the factors that may prevent children from getting dental care.

“Sometimes fear is a big thing, but kids aren’t afraid to have me clean their teeth here at the school,” she said.

Danforth says school social workers will refer families to her. If a child doesn’t have a dentist, Healthy Teeth to Toes will pay for an initial dental exam and X-rays, and Danforth will work to set up appointments with one of the local dentists who does accept Medicaid reimbursement.

And Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes is not just for young children.

Delahanty and Danforth are excited about a new program being offered this year at South Meadow School. Students there who have not seen a dentist in a year or more are, with their parents’ permission, being offered free sealants. Sealants are a thin plastic coating placed on the chewing surface of the teeth and they can provide significant protection against decay or cavities.

“It a pilot program, just at the one school this year,” Danforth said. “If it works, we hope to expand it.”

Danforth also offers a Healthy Beginnings prenatal program, to educate pregnant women about the importance of dental hygiene before, during and after pregnancy. Women can get prenatal vitamins and calcium supplements if they are planning to nurse their babies.

“I’ll meet new moms in the birthing suite, with a big bag of dental items,” Danforth says. “It’s all about getting parents involved and educated early about dental care.”

Danforth is also helping adults who lack access to dental care by assisting families with enrolling for Medicaid coverage.

“Right now it’s difficult for poor adults to get dental coverage. So people start going to the emergency department for dental care,” she says. Adults are referred to the program through their primary care physicians.

About 80 percent of the funding for the adult program comes from Monadnock Community Hospital, Danforth says, although the program has received some grants from the state of New Hampshire, the Wrigley Foundation and the N.H. Charitable Foundation.

Danforth says community support has been key to the success of Monadnock Healthy Teeth to Toes. Three local Rotary Clubs pitched in $5,000 each to purchase the van that Delahanty drives. The schools have been tremendously helpful in providing space and scheduling time for Delahanty’s program and treatments. And local dentists have been enthusiastic supporters of the program.

“It’s really important to see these kids on a regular basis,” Danforth says. “Our goal is to find a dental home for each child.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com.

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