By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Treasure Coast Community Health is putting their resources where your mouth is, literally.
When bones break or fevers rise, most people know to seek treatment from a medical professional to get their health back on track, but when it comes to oral health, many are hesitant to make the same move.
Treasure Coast Community Health, a nonprofit federally-qualified community health center in Indian River County, is hoping to show the community how important dental health is, and recently won a grant opportunity to help them on their way.
For five weeks, Treasure Coast Community Health had a licensed community dental health coordinator from Wisconsin making connections with the community and discovering the gaps in dental health care in Indian River County, said Richard Huot, interim dental director for Treasure Coast Community Health and a board member of the Florida Dental Association.
Jenna Linden is one of 34 graduate students in the country that has completed the 18-month training course to become a community dental health coordinator and is traveling the country to show communities, dental associations, colleges and universities the benefits of the licensing program.
A community dental health coordinator is essentially a social worker for the dental health community and is trained in oral health promotion, community organization and networking, cultural competency and public health. The goals of this effort are to promote oral health education and disease prevention and empower underserved communities to manage their own oral health, a press release said.
By having someone on staff that is dedicated to doing this, that frees up the dentists and hygienists to see their patients in a timely manner, while still making sure they are getting the education they need to take back home with them, Dr. Huot said.
Treasure Coast Community Health has a good working relationship with Eastern Florida State College and Indian River State College and their dental programs, so he is hopeful they will see the benefit of the program.
This sort of training and licensing opens up a new career avenue for people in the dental field, Dr. Huot said.
Finding someone with a dental background, such as a hygienist, like Ms. Linden, who was from the community to dedicate themselves to dental education and disease prevention would be an enormous help, Dr. Huot said.
During her five-week stay, Ms. Linden visited with nonprofit groups and other organizations that interact with both ends of the age spectrum, including senior congregate meal sites and childcare facilities.
"One thing I've learned since starting this is that you can't assume that people know the basics of dental care," Ms. Linden said.
Dr. Huot emphatically agreed with her observation.
Many times what can happen is that a family has habits, including nutritional and hygienic habits, that have been passed down from generation to generation, but those habits can be shaped on misinformation, Dr. Huot said.
One common habit that has a negative effect on oral health is putting a small child to bed with a bottle containing juice or milk, Ms. Linden said.
The sugars in the drink will stay on the gums and teeth of the children for a prolonged amount of time, often causing early tooth decay, often called "bottle rot," Ms. Linden said.
Another way a coordinator helps the community is by working with the patient to develop treatment plans, or to find specialists that accept the patient's insurance coverage, Ms. Linden said.
"We can connect them to the care they need," she said.
Ms. Linden said the community response she has seen in Indian River County and during her time in Vermont has been quite positive.
"The community recognizes a great need for dental care but doesn't necessarily know who to turn to for advice and direction on the topic," Ms. Linden said.
"I feel very fortunate to be a part of improving the lives of others through being a community dental health coordinator," she said.
For more information about Treasure Coast Community Health, visit www.tcchinc.org.