I-Smile™ Dental Home
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reminds parents the key to a lifelong, healthy smile is early preventive care. Beginning regular dental visits by the age of 1 year, using fluoridated water and brushing twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste can help prevent painful cavities from forming in a child’s mouth.
The IDPH I-Smile™ Dental Home Initiative is a program that helps Iowa's children connect with dental services. Using a team approach, dentists provide definitive evaluation and treatment when needed. Other health professionals, such as dental hygienists, physicians and nurses, are a part of a larger network and can provide oral screenings, education, anticipatory guidance and preventive services as needed.
Dawn Ericson, Registered Dental Hygienist, is Mid-Sioux Opportunity, Inc.’s I-Smile Coordinator. Dawn’s role as the I-Smile Coordinator has positively impacted children’s oral health in Northwest Iowa. More children have access to dental care from dentists, more children receive important preventive services, and parents and the public are more aware of the importance of oral health through oral health promotion and education opportunities. Over the past 10 years, the number of Medicaid-enrolled children in Mid-Sioux’s 5 county service area, ages 1-20, receiving preventive dental services has more than doubled (1,760 in FY’06 and 3,569 in FY’16).
The I-Smile program is an important resource for at-risk children, helping to prevent tooth decay and facilitate access to regular dental care. Dawn’s role in providing “Care Coordination” services is key to helping families navigate the dental delivery system. Dawn works directly with families and local dentists to coordinate services for children who are in need of dental treatment. This assistance provided to families is likely to have played a role in the increase in the number of children in Northwest Iowa who have received dental care from dentists.
While the number of children who have received dental care over the past 10 years has greatly increased, challenges still exist. Helping children younger than 3 receive care from local dentists remains difficult. In addition, the number of dentists in Northwest Iowa who accept new Medicaid patients continues to decline. It can be very difficult for Medicaid families to receive dental treatment and unfortunately, this leads to many families going without dental care.
As I-Smile™ Coordinator, Dawn Ericson will continue to collaborate with local partners (dentists, medical providers, school nurses, teachers, public health providers, Community Health Centers, etc.) to improve the health outcomes for children in Northwest Iowa through early prevention, education, and referrals.
Dawn’s work as the I-Smile Coordinator would not be possible without the willingness of local dentists to agree to the “public health supervision” of Mid-Sioux’s dental hygienists and dental assistants. A big thank you to Dr. Gregory Beernink who has served in this role for over the past 10 years. Another thank you to Dr. Cassady Rider who has agreed to serve as the current public health supervising dentist. And finally, thank you to Dawn Ericson, for all her work with local providers and families to assist children in Northwest Iowa in receiving dental care.