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School nurse oral health resource project progressing

School nurses nationwide will soon be able to log on for oral health information and support offered by a dozen expert organizations as a National Association of School Nurses campaign nears the launch of a new oral health resource website for its members.

Image: Dr. Bergren
Dr. Bergren

The ADA offered assistance and support for the campaign, “Empowering School Nurses to Change Oral Health Perceptions,” including helping the NASN convene a national expert panel June 13 at ADA Headquarters. Attending were representatives from NASN, the ADA, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, the American Public Health Association, Colgate-Palmolive Co., the Hispanic Dental Association, the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center and New York University College of Nursing and the DentaQuest Foundation. Laura McAlpine, of McAlpine Consulting for Growth LLC, facilitated the daylong meeting.

Panelists were able to hear the results of a NASN oral health needs assessment conducted earlier this year with help from the ADA Health Policy Resources Center. The survey assessed school nurses’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs regarding oral health and identified information gaps in school nurse resources on oral health topics.

Image: Ms. Barone
Ms. Barone

The group also reviewed “a voluminous amount of resources to share with school nurses” contributed by panelists, said Martha Bergren, D.S.N., R.N., NASN director of research.

"Addressing the oral health issues of our nation’s children needs to be a collaborative effort among dental and medical professionals and other community partners,” said Lauren Barone, manager, Section on Pediatric Dentistry and Oral Health and Oral Health Initiative for the American Academy of Pediatrics, who served as a panelist at the meeting. “The National Association of School Nurses is working to educate its members on how to be a part of the team needed to educate children and their families about oral health."

Ms. Barone said the focus of the meeting was for a variety of organizations to work together to review available oral health resources with the NASN so they wouldn’t have to “reinvent the wheel. The groups in attendance have already developed high quality resources to educate dental and nondental professionals, children and their families about oral health.”

Learning that many U.S. schools only had part-time school nurses or no nurse at all was an eye-opening revelation, said Margo Y. Melchor, a dental hygienist, educator, president of the Hispanic Dental Association and panelist.

Image: Ms. Melchor
Ms. Melchor

“I have a very close friend who is a school nurse in an underserved Hispanic area of Houston,” said Ms. Melchor. “As the director of community outreach for the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston, she and I collaborated to help the children in her school. We started with having dental students visit to teach oral hygiene and it’s grown into a treatment program through the dental school’s pediatric program. Just reaching out, one step at a time, can be a good starting place to help children in need of oral health information and care.”

“The next steps will be for the NASN Oral Health Advisory Committee to review the materials and decide best how to arrange them on a new, user-friendly website for school nurses, highlighting the best resources and adding links for resources that are duplicative, too detailed or too cumbersome for the nurse who needs something on the run,” said Dr. Bergren.

The school nurses’ organization will promote the enhanced oral health resources and information through its weekly electronic digest, LISTSERV, social media like Twitter and Facebook, and NASN’s print publications, NASN School Nurse and Journal of School Nursing. The resources will also be promoted at state and national conferences and at school health partners’ conferences, she added.

Image: Ms. Garland
Ms. Garland

The NYU College of Nursing will advise the NASN on the use of the Smiles For Life curriculum and how to tailor it to nursing and the NASN will continue to collaborate interprofessionally to promote oral health awareness.

The campaign is supported through a grant from the DentaQuest Foundation.

“With this initiative, we look forward to having school nurses join the growing ranks of other nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and family medicine physicians and pediatricians who see that something can and should be done about tooth decay in children,” said Tracy Garland, director of the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health.