A grant provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the University of South Dakota Dental Hygiene Department has helped formulate a new school-based preventative program.
Darlene Bogenpohl oversees the three-year grant, which gave funding to the department, providing money to buy necessary equipment and afforded transportation to and from the schools.
Bogenpohl said she and four students travel to schools in southeast South Dakota, going as far north as Sioux Falls and as far west as Tyndall. They then provide dental preventative services to mostly elementary children, although they do offer it to the junior high and high school levels.
“Our mission is to get these kids into a dental home, to get these kids the help they need,” Bogenpohl said.
The team recently finished a two-week rotation in Sioux Falls, offering services to 158 children.
Melissa Nash and Melissa Menning have participated in the preventative program. Both are seniors working toward earning their bachelor degree in dental hygiene.
“It’s a more exciting and fun first impression of the dentist than when you go into a dental office, even though most have been to a regular dental office,” Nash said.
The 31 seniors in the dental hygiene program rotate visiting the schools. Every week, Bogenpohl’s team drives to a school. Depending on the need, they will be there for one or two weeks.
Menning said after the department contacts the school, they send out permission slips asking parents if they would like their students to participate in the program. Once Bogenpohl’s team of dentistry students arrives, they set up their stations.
“We have complete portable dental equipment; we can set up a complete dental office,” Bogenpohl said.
Menning said these temporary stations could be located anywhere in the school, from a wrestling room to small offices.
Students are called from their classrooms, usually in pairs, and taken to the stations for a 15-minute checkup.
Bogenpohl said the dental hygiene seniors educate the students one-on-one about dental basics. Screenings are sometimes done to see if there is a real need for the student to see a dentist at a dental office.
During the appointment,, Menning said children receive a toothbrush and toothpaste, are taught about flossing if old enough and are given a sugar-free sucker at the end.
Most of the services are free of charge, Bogenpohl said, however, they do have small fees for those who want additional services beyond that. She said this is done because after the third year of the program, a sustainability fund must be in place to keep the program going.
Nash and Menning said they have witnessed the effects of the program firsthand.
“To get them preventative measures that are offered to them at a discounted rate or free is really beneficial because a lot of insurance companies don’t cover the preventative measures,” Menning said.
There are currently 32 juniors and 31 seniors in the dental hygiene department.
In addition to the preventative dental program in schools, Menning said there is a USD hygiene clinic in Sioux Falls. Nash said students make rotations to the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls, Springfield and Yankton. Seniors also go to the Redfield hospital for mentally disabled adults, nursing homes and reservations.
Bogenpohl said to add to the traveling rotations already in place, students would be working in Sioux Falls at “South Dakota Achieve.” She said not only will they be teaching dental education to the “Achieve” disabled adults, but the staff as well.
Both agreed the new preventative program at schools gives students a good opportunity to get used to working with kids, where they otherwise may not have at the other locations.
Bogenpohl said she has seen how Nash and Menning are role models to the students at the schools they visit.
“You kind of feel like a famous person because you’ll be walking through the halls, and (the students) will wave, and say, ‘Hi, dentist, thank you for cleaning my teeth,’” Menning said.