Dental screenings, dental fun for EHS!

Penn Dental student Alexia Blackhurst shows an Early Head Start student how to properly brush teeth using a stuffed animal puppet.

The Health Federation of Philadelphia’s Early Head Start (EHS) program and the University of Pennsylvania School Of Dental Medicine (Penn Dental) are working together to help address the shortage of dentists serving the Medicaid and CHIP population. Penn Dental students will provide oral health education, health promotion and dental screenings for children in the EHS program and for prenatal participants.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry all recommend that children should see a dentist by one year of age. Yet, many general dentists do not feel comfortable providing services to infants and very young children – exactly the population of EHS students. This collaboration aims to provide practical experiences for second through fourth year dental students and quality dental screenings and education for EHS families.

“Many EHS families do not have an established dental home. They have multiple competing priorities in their lives so convenience and accessibility is important,” said Sara’ Fleming-Donley, the health and nutrition manager for HFP’s Early Head Start program. “Because the Penn Dental students will visit in the home, it eliminates the need for the parent to find transportation, childcare or cancel an appointment due to inclement weather.”

The first home visits took place in the beginning of October, with additional home visits scheduled three days a week.

This partnership embodies the ideals of HFP’s Early Head Start program, which is a home-based program that provides individualized services for each child and family. The dental home visits are learning experiences for parents, children and dental students. Parents receive individualized oral health education and screenings for their children. Children are exposed early to the dentist so they learn to not be scared or anxious about visiting the dentist. Dental students gain valuable experience by providing services to infants and young children.

“We are very glad to have this collaboration with Penn Dentistry,” said Fleming-Donley. “The parents love the convenience and the dental students love the community exposure and the interaction with the kids. We’re looking forward to seeing positive results from this program.”

  • Penn Dental students provide outreach education at an EHS socialization event. From left to right: Stanley Thomas, Dre Smith, Anshuman Sethi, Alexia Blackhurst and instructor Deanne Wallaert.