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'We give the children their first toothbrush'

New York program reaches 76,000 kids over 19 years

May 12, 2017

By Michelle Manchir


One toothbrush to go, please: A girl happily receives a toothbrush from the PRASAD Children's Dental Health Program based in Hurleyville, New York, a program that has served more than 76,000 kids with dental care and education. Photos courtesy of PRASAD Children's Dental Health Program, Inc.
Hurleyville, N.Y. — When the staff of a dental nonprofit here is not providing children with their first toothbrush and a cleaning or other dental care, they might be educating mothers about how to take care of their teeth, or ensuring that the little girl who came to the mobile dental clinic without a coat on a cold winter morning gets one to take home.

Some of the families in the rural county that the staff at PRASAD Children's Dental Health Program see have dental benefits but don't know how or cannot schedule an appointment for their children, so PRASAD staff helps with that, too.

"There are so many barriers to access to care," said the nonprofit's director, Dr. Cecilia Escarra.
 
PRASAD Children's Dental Health Program — whose name stands for Philanthropic Relief, Altruistic Service and Development — has for 19 years been an essential provider of dental care for many in Sullivan County, a rural county of about 75,000 with high rates of poverty that sits about 90 miles northwest of New York City.

The mobile clinic, staffed by two dentists who alternate days and two dental hygienists, including one volunteer, visits public schools three days each week during the school year, and services are also available for children during the summer and school holidays.

"For many, PRASAD provides their dental home," said Dr. Escarra.
 
The dental hygienists with the program also provide education about oral health to students in 20-30 minute classroom sessions. The students get to take home floss and toothbrush.

"So many times, we give the children their first toothbrush, ever," said Dr. Escarra.


Smiles on the road: The PRASAD Children's Dental Health Program's mobile dental clinic visits public schools three times per week in Sullivan County, N.Y.
In addition to working with county school districts, PRASAD Children's Dental Health Program works with Sullivan County's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, program to provide dental screenings and oral health education to mothers.

"Hygienists visit the WIC offices, meeting the women at their scheduled appointments, thus reducing their need to make another appointment and potentially miss work and manage additional transportation needs," said Dr. Escarra. "Meeting the women and their children where they are is a key and innovative component to ensuring that they receive proper dental health education."

The program is a "critical partner" to Sullivan County Public Health Services, which oversees, among other services, the county WIC program, said Nancy McGraw, public health director for the county.

"Sullivan County is very large geographically with no public transportation system, and it is very rural with isolated families who find it difficult to access dental care," said Ms. McGraw. "[The county] recognized after conducting an Oral Health Needs Assessment in 2016 that the rate of dental caries in our third grade children was very poor. We established a coalition and began working on ways to intervene and impact this issue. Partnering with PRASAD to provide screenings and referral to low-income families with children was one way of addressing the problem early on, and connecting them with dental care."

Many in New York recognize PRASAD Children's Dental Health Program's work as valuable.

The group is a four-time recipient of the New York State Dental Foundation's Give Kids A Smile Award, recognizing the program's excellence in caring for the oral health care needs of children in Sullivan County. In January, when the most recent award was bestowed, the chairman of the foundation, Dr. G.K. Gleason, noted that PRASAD Children's Dental Health Program has earned the award more often than any other group in the state.

A big part of the group's efforts is to ensure the children have a positive experience at the dental clinic, said Dr. Gary Berson, who has helped the program with fundraising and operations since its inception in the county almost 20 years ago. Since it's often the child's first time seeing a dentist, ensuring they feel comfortable and taken care of is essential, he said. Sometimes this involves taking time to comfort worried kids, or, said Dr. Escarra, recalling an incident last winter, providing them with basic needs, such as a warm coat.  

In all, the program has served more than 76,000 children since 1996. Another 150 individuals who would not have otherwise received any preventive care have been screened and assisted with access to dental care through the program's partnership with the county since January 2016, said Ms. McGraw.

For more information about PRASAD CDHP visit prasadcdhp.org.