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Healthy Teeth, Healthy Smiles

Alberta Health Services Oral Health Program improves dental health for children in Wood Buffalo

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in early childhood, and is linked to many long term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. The Alberta Health Services Oral Health Program in Wood Buffalo enables children to develop important life-long dental health habits, aiming to prevent diseases linked to oral health. The program offers preventative dental services to young children in Fort McMurray, Conklin, Janvier, Anzac and Fort McKay at no cost to the families.

Kim Melanson, a seasoned Registered Dental Assistant, runs the program throughout the region. Originally from Ontario, Melanson has been a part of the program for the past five years.

According to Melanson, oral health is critical to a child’s health and well being.

“Oral health is so important and can influence a child’s entire life,” says Melanson, “If a child has unhealthy teeth, they can miss out on school and other activities due to dental issues they’re having, such as tooth pain. It can also affect their nutritional needs as it can be painful to eat, which can lead to long term health problems.”

Melanson conducts a variety of preventive dental services offered through the program, which include screening, fluoride varnish applications, dental sealant applications, brushing and flossing instruction, dental referrals and public education. Children can receive services through the School Oral Health Program at in-schools visits and the Preschool Oral Health Program at the Fort McMurray Community Health Services office.

Fluoride applications are offered for eligible children 12 to 35 months in the Preschool Oral Health Program. The School Oral Program includes fluoride varnish applications for children in kindergarten, grades one and two in selected schools. This type of fluoride is a varnish and is applied by painting it on the child’s teeth to help prevent cavities.

Dental sealants are also offered to children in grades one and two in select schools. The sealant coats the chewing surface of a child’s permanent back teeth to help prevent cavities. These teeth can be difficult to clean and can be susceptible to tooth decay.

The program focuses primarily on young children. However, services also offered to older children in rural areas, where accessibility to dental services can be an issue.

For many years, the Northern Lights Health Foundation has supported the Program by funding much needed equipment. In May 2011, the Health Foundation provided over $35,000 in funding for a portable pediatric dental chair, portable compressor and dental unit, portable dental light and a tray table.

This equipment provides Melanson with the means to set up a temporary dental office within the schools she’s visiting. Melanson also uses a public health fleet vehicle to drive out to the schools. The Health Foundation has also funded this vehicle for many years through the generous and ongoing support of Canadian Natural Resources Limited.

“The portable equipment plays a significant role in the success of this program. It allows me to reach as many children in our region as I can,” says Melanson. “With the equipment, I’m able to provide dental services in schools for children, many of which don’t have regular access to a dentist. I’m also able to educate and raise awareness for children on the importance of oral health.”

Education for parents also plays a significant role in the program. “Raising awareness and getting the message out to parents about proper mouth care for their children is so important,” she says.
Melanson often gives presentations but says even just answering questions and giving tips can make a big impact for families in our region. “Giving parents simple tips on alternative ways to approach tooth brushing can make the biggest difference in a child’s health and well being,” she says.

The Oral Health Program in Wood Buffalo has had an incredible impact in the region, helping many children maintain exceptional oral health. With its continued success, children in our region will have happy and healthy smiles for years to come.

For more information, contact Kim Melanson, Registered Dental Assistant for the Oral Health Program, by calling 780.791.6242.

Article originally published in YMM Magazine.

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