Imagine a child with a toothache trying to master vocabulary words or multiplication tables.
People of any age have trouble concentrating with a nagging pain in their mouth, and small children are particularly ill-equipped to handle the burden.
The Dental College of Georgia has partnered with the Georgia Department of Public Health to make this problem as rare as possible. Through grant funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the DCG is able to expand teledentistry services to hundreds of schoolchildren in the Southeast Health District, encompassing Charlton, Brantley and Clinch counties.
The team effort begins with Kayla Daniels, a dental hygienist and oral health coordinator who oversees dental clinics in the schools, screening the children and providing cleanings, fluoride treatments, radiographs and dental education.
As she treats the children, DCG faculty participate via teledentistry, technology that enables them to observe and interact in real time with Daniels and the children. The faculty, overseen by Dr. Tara Schafer, chair of the DCG Department of Pediatric Dentistry, and Dr. Roy Rockman, assistant professor in the department, can also view any radiographs or intraoral photographs taken. “This provides a way to triage the patients so that those with the most urgent dental needs can quickly receive restorative treatment,” says Schafer.
Dr. Jon A. Drawdy (’94) provides another layer of service as Daniels’ local consultant. Drawdy refers children who need follow-up treatment to Dr. Page Manus (’86). Drawdy and Manus both maintain practices in Waycross, Georgia.
Schafer cites numerous benefits of the program, including access to dentistry for children who might otherwise be unable to receive routine preventive and diagnostic care; minimized school absences or logistical impediments since the treatment is school-based; and expedited treatment for children with acute needs.
Adds Ketarya D. Hunt Bass, DCG director of community outreach programs who oversees the HRSA grant, “Travel is one major barrier that affects oral health care in the area. The school-based clinic sites help improve access to an oral health provider and ultimately establish a dental home.”
DCG pediatric residents normally travel to the area four times a year for a week at a time to offer oral health education in partnership with the district’s health departments and treat patients at Drawdy’s office, further increasing the number of children treated in the area. (The travel has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic but will resume when it is safe to do so.)
“This program is an excellent example of using innovation, technology and determination to address a public health problem that might otherwise doom countless children to unnecessary suffering,” says Dean Carol A. Lefebvre. “The use of teledentistry allows us to broaden the reach of our faculty’s vast expertise and ensures excellent dental care for hundreds of children who might otherwise go without it. Most importantly, it enables the children to do what they do best: be kids and enjoy school. We are particularly pleased to do this in partnership with Ms. Daniels and two of our esteemed alumni, Drs. Drawdy and Manus. Their service, combined with ours, not only meets children’s current needs, but sets them on a course of excellent oral health for the rest of their lives.”
For more information, call the Office of Oral Health at 912-287-4893.