Children Enjoy Healthy Smiles through School-based Teledentistry Clinics

January 8, 2016

Elementary students in South Georgia are benefitting from the Southeast Health District teledentistry project.

Since its launch seven years ago, the program has examined thousands of children while educating them on good oral health.

To assist with dental care needs, the teledentistry clinics are placed inside the schools. This creates a familiar atmosphere for the students, also cancelling out any need for transportation to a clinic offsite.  

“These are students living in a rural area,” said Suleima Salgado, director of telehealth and telemedicine at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). “They could drive for 45 minutes and never see a dentist office.”

Appointments are scheduled during the school day, minimizing time away from the classroom. The dental hygienist provides cleaning, fluoride, x-rays and oral health education through interactive video consultation with The Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University formerly known as Georgia Regents University School of Dental Medicine.

Salgado explained that limited access to dental care in rural areas can contribute to a lack of knowledge about dental care.

The teledentistry program is similar to a typical dentist office, with a dental hygienist handling each student’s case.           

After a child is seen, they are either referred to a general dentist or a pediatric dentist. If a referral is not required, the students are scheduled for a follow-up examination six months later or the next school year.

“The reward of helping improve oral habits and conditions gives a feeling of accomplishment,” said Suzanne Yeomans, RDH, telehealth dental hygienist.

Yeomans recalled one particular experience with a 10-year-old student who had a rare congenital condition.

“He only has eight of his permanent teeth and several of his baby teeth have been lost with no permanent replacement,” she explained. “He has no lower front teeth, and chewing properly is difficult because of the lack of permanent teeth which can lead to digestive problems later on.”

The student’s mother expressed frustration due to only having access to pediatric dental specialists that were located at least 30 miles away, and no provider would offer treatment to help replace or retain her child’s teeth.

Through the teledentistry clinic, the child was able to be seen and referred to their partners at GRU to receive treatment that enables him to eat properly, speak clearly and have a full set of teeth. He also was fitted with a series of retainers that will adjust to his growth until he reaches an age appropriate for obtaining permanent replacements.

“It gives me an enormous sense of accomplishment to be a part of this patient’s success,” said Yeomans. “The kids remember me as ‘The Dental Lady’ as I walk down the hallways at school, and I constantly encourage them to take care of their teeth. This reminder, I hope, stays with them for a lifetime.”

The teledentistry clinic is making it possible to provide oral health to those children who would otherwise not have access to it.

To learn more about DPH’s teledentistry project and other telehealth services, visit the Office of Telehealth & Telemedicine online.

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