Dental hygienists offer care to students at Jamesburg school


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JAMESBURG – As registered dental hygienist Kim Attanasi led a student at JFK Elementary School in Jamesburg to her chair, the young girl said, “I’ve never been to a dentist before. … This is going to be fun.”

Less than half of children eligible for NJ FamilyCare (Medicaid) have ever been to a dentist, according to NJ FamilyCare, which means many are likely to be in pain and need treatment.

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Now, a recently expanded scope of practice approved by the Board of Dentistry enables dental hygienists to work under a supervisory agreement with a dentist to deliver an assessment and fluoride varnish treatment in schools.

Working with the United Way of Central Jersey, three registered dental hygienists volunteered at the preschool program at JFK on May 31.

“I think this is a great way to reach children who otherwise would not receive preventive care,” Dr. Max Sulla, supervising dentist for the  event, said in a prepared statement. Sulla’s dental practice, TenderSmiles4Kids, has offices in Freehold, Edison and North Brunswick. “The dental hygienists can identify students with urgent treatment needs. The dentists can see them before their condition becomes worse and potentially more expensive to treat.”

“We realize that we have to go out into the community if we are going to reach this population,” Linda Knudsen, president of the New Jersey Dental Hygienists’ Association (NJDHA), said in the statement.

Yvonne Goldman, NJDHA director of Advocacy, and Kim Attanasi, NJDHA director of Public Health Issues, joined Knudsen in providing oral health education, including practicing toothbrushing techniques. Groups of students were brought to the gym and engaged by the hygienists until their turn to sit in a chair for an assessment and application of preventive fluoride treatment, according to the statement.

“Our goal is not just a one-time application of fluoride varnish,” Goldman said in the statement. “We want to improve access to a dental home.”

Pamela Hernandez, principal of JFK, said, “We are fortunate that the United Way provides the support for us to offer our students this oral care.”

Linda Hecker, director of Dental Hygiene at Rowan College at Burlington County, brought students from her program to visit classrooms to reach more students with oral health education.

“It’s not only important to educate elementary students about the basics of oral health. It’s also important to make sure that dental hygiene students realize the role they can play in the community to improve population health,” she said in the statement.

Attanasi agreed that, “We have an opportunity to influence the health of high-risk populations that otherwise could become users of high cost emergency care. Providing preventive care in the community can lower costs for all of us.”

Gloria Aftanski, president of the United Way of Central Jersey, emphasized the importance of an integrated approach.

“We know that children’s welfare relies on a combination of financial stability, health and education, so we are always looking for ways to focus investments in a complementary way,” she said in the statement.

Rebecca Pugh, executive director of the NJDHA, agreed.

“There are many barriers to access to care. We want to go into the community to identify the children with urgent treatment needs so we can help get them into the right chair at the right time and lower the incidence of emergency room usage. Out of 35 children assessed, 13 needed treatment.”

For more information on community-based dental hygienist care, contact Pugh at .

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