November 09, 2011

Head Start offers fluoride varnish program

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Staff members of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Head Start program are firm believers in Benjamin Franklin’s adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Twice during each school year, children in the program are able to get a free fluoride varnish from the University’s dental hygiene students to help reduce cavities and keep their smiles pretty and healthy.  Painted on much like fingernail polish, it takes just a few seconds to apply and provides good protection against cavities.

“It’s a win-win program.  We can’t downplay the importance of prevention and this is a major piece of prevention.  Oral health is a big priority.  Keeping kids from getting cavities saves them from pain, shots and fillings.  It’s also an important component of overall good health.  The fluoride varnish applications are also a valuable teaching tool and great community service for our dental hygiene students,” said Toni Kay Wright, health and nutrition coordinator for SIU Carbondale’s Head Start.

With permission from the parents of Head Start children, University dental hygiene students and faculty apply the varnish to the children’s teeth once each semester.  This is the fourth year for the program and about 375 children each year have been the beneficiaries of the free dental service, Wright said.  There’s an educational component to the process too, as the children learn from the University students and faculty the importance of taking care of their teeth and what to expect when they visit a dentist.

Fluoride varnish applications are set in coming weeks at the Head Start sites in Murphysboro on Nov. 15, Johnston City on Nov. 17, Marion on Nov. 29, Malone’s and John A. Logan on Dec. 1 and Carbondale on Dec. 6.  

The best-case scenario, Wright said, is for the preschool children to get the varnish twice a year at Head Start and twice a year from a dentist but, by offering semi-annual treatments at Head Start, they’re at least giving the children a head start on good dental care.  For the third year, Oral Health American is donating the varnish. 

“Many children don’t see a dentist before coming to Head Start.  We feel giving them the opportunity to receive preventative care and information is important,” Wright said.