C-L board warned of dental hygiene problems

Clarion News writer

Members of Clarion-Limestone School Board smiled after a presentation on dental hygiene services available in the district even though the discussion brought many frowns.

C-L district nurse Greta Edmonds and Primary Health Network representative Tricia Pezzuti joined UPMC employee Crystal Siebka during a presentation on Siebka Smiles, a mobile restorative treatment clinic Siebka hopes to have for students.

“Health services as a whole the past three to five years has been a real challenge (in school),” said Edmonds. “The needs that are not met at home and the gaps in care in the community are spilling right into our areas.”

Edmonds said while she’s seeing an increase in health needs across the board, dental hygiene has be specifically troubling at the elementary level.

“We go above and beyond, as far as dental care (at C-L),” said Edmunds.

Sighting Pennsylvania’s requirements for dental exams at the entry, third- and seventh-grade level, Edmonds reported C-L’s adopted dental practices provides dental screenings for all students in kindergarten through seventh-grade. The program also has an “educational component” for kindergarten through third-grade.

“(This year) we screened 364 students and out of those, we referred 107 that were identified as having immediate needs,” said Edmonds.

Referrals are a matter of issuing state-mandated forms to families as appropriate and requiring the form be returned to the school when care is given.

Edmonds told the board the school physician identified cavities in kindergarteners for the first time since 2001.

Siebka said when she started screening C-L students three years ago, she encountered three seventh-graders who won’t graduate with their teeth.

“When you looked into (their) mouth, you were looking up into bone, the teeth were so badly decayed,” she said.

She recalled encountering kindergarteners with multiple abscesses, too. Fortunately, there’s documentation, thanks to health care officials before Siebka.

“I can look at a third-grader and see they had decay noted in kindergarten and it was never addressed,” Siebka said.

Recognizing a lack of dental care providers in the area specifically those who offer sedation and access to health coverage, Siebka wanted to offer alternatives.

“The only solution I could see was prevention,” said Siebka.

Pending legislation could make it easier to provide dental care in school districts. Siebka’s idea for a mobile unit Siebka’s Smiles would use that leverage on a district level.

But the legislation hasn’t “caught up” with her yet. Instead, Siebka has access to Miracle Dental Associates and a mobile dental clinic operated by Dr. Brittany Kinol of Wexford.

Siebka contacted Kinol about providing preventative services in C-L, with her initial screenings leading directly to care in her practice. Kinol offered assistance to the district, at no cost to C-L.

“Children can die from dental infections,” Siebka stated. “And it’s not something that should be ignored.”

She’d like to see parents educated on dental hygiene as well as students.

Pezzuti added Primary Health is the only provider accepting Medicaid and offering service to new patients locally. Unfortunately, it can’t accept new clients until June 2020 due to the number of cases in the area.

“We really need to take a hard look at that,” Pezzuti added.

“Our goal is to raise awareness,” concluded Edmonds. “To start to address some of these needs.”

C-L students this year went home with dental kits, which included toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss contributed by both the district and Primary Health.

The women asked the board to be aware of the issue and look forward to a day when legislation allows a mobile clinic to be present year-round. The board thanked the women for their efforts.

“I would like to see it continue to grow,” agreed board president Molly Greenawalt. “It’s really important.”