Unfortunately, too many children in the Monadnock Region were going without regular dental care and consequently were living with dental disease. Thus, in 1996, Cheshire Smiles, a project of The Council for a Healthier Community, was conceived and began providing access to dental care for children in kindergarten through third grade in public schools throughout Cheshire County.
At one time, Cheshire Smiles was one of only a handful of school-based dental programs in New Hampshire. Dental professionals and members of the hospital and school communities supported Cheshire Smiles in its infancy and their support continues today. Cheshire Smiles has become a model for some of the 20 public health school-based dental programs in the state.
Currently, Cheshire Smiles public health hygienists visit 19 elementary schools, setting up portable dental equipment and providing the following services to eligible children.
- Screenings - visual inspection of the teeth and surrounding structures
- Oral Health Education - classroom presentations and individual instruction
- Prophylaxis - a dental cleaning, oral hygiene instruction and fluoride application
- Dental Sealants - a protective coating is placed on back teeth to prevent tooth decay
- Fluoride Rinse - weekly rinse programs established at schools to prevent tooth decay
- Referrals - children in need of restorative care are referred to a dentist for additional treatment
- Parent Support - parents receive assistance with Healthy Kids insurance applications from the Family Resource Counselor
Last year alone...
- 2,245 children received dental health education
- 1,407 children received dental health screenings
- 248 children received preventive services (cleanings, oral hygiene instruction, flouride treatment, and/or sealants)
- 87 children received sealants
During the first year of Cheshire Smiles, the magnitude of the dental access problem in Cheshire County was realized. While providing necessary preventative dental services to young school children, Cheshire Smiles did not have the resources to provide restorative care, or to assist older children, the parents of children or other adults suffering from effects of dental disease.
The Keene community responded to this need by assembling the Dental Public Health Task Force (DPHTF) to work on these access issues. Comprised of dentists, dental hygienists, hospital personnel, and representatives of human service agencies, the DPHTF, with financial support from Cheshire Medical Center, recruited a pediatric dentist to Keene who treats children of all ages. A second major accomplishment of the DPHTF is the creation of Dental Health Works!, a non-profit community dental practice serving predominantly underserved clients. Both of these practices accept Healthy Kids (Medicaid) insurance. Cheshire Smiles is unique in that children are referred to these practices soon after their in-school care is complete, and parents receive assistance with the Healthy Kids insurance application process. As a result of continued Cheshire Medical Center-DHK and wide community support, Cheshire Smiles is thriving with visions of extending care to middle schools, Head Start Centers, and pre-schools throughout Cheshire County.