The Healthy Smiles program began in Clatsop County in 2016 through a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation and donor generosity. The 2017-2018 school year is the second full year of operation.
Justin Abbott is the patient navigator for Healthy Smiles. A former schoolteacher, he connects with families either by referral from a school nurse or through the dental sealant program he manages. When he finds a student with dental care needs, he works with the parents to find a dentist or clinic.
“I’ve had kids that have completely black teeth because they haven’t been taking care of them and their parents didn’t know they could see a dentist for free,” said Justin. “I do a lot of patient navigation for kids who have never seen a dentist.”
Along with the sealant program, Justin also coordinates dental learning labs for kindergarten through 8th grade students. The labs have six or seven stations depending on the grade level. Small groups rotate through the stations for detailed information on their teeth and how to care for them. Dental assistants teach at each station.
Of course, free toothbrushes are part of the deal. Justin also goes to schools to hand out information to parents. It allows parents to ask questions in a friendly setting.
Clatsop County is mostly rural covering 1,085 square miles. The number of students receiving free or reduced price meals has increased significantly in recent years. Within the eight schools in the district, 51 to 69 percent of students qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. About 35 percent of children see a dentist yearly but more don’t go until there is a problem. Donor support of the Healthy Smiles program leads to better health for the children in our community.