Upper Valley Smiles Tackles Need for Dental Care

Asha Clark, RDH, BSDH, CPHDH
Asha Clark, RDH, BSDH, CPHDH

Upper Valley Smiles, a free dental health program for schoolchildren created and hosted by Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital (APD), has re-launched its work with area schools. The program returned to Canaan Elementary School in Canaan, New Hampshire on December 18, 2023 where 26 children received dental services. 

The goal of Upper Valley Smiles is to provide preventive and non-invasive dental care during the school year to elementary school students, focusing on those with no dental home or no regular dental care.

“The program provides oral health education, dental screenings, fluoride varnish, sealants, decay-stopping fluoride treatments, and interim therapeutic restorations — all at no cost to families,” said Beth O’Donnell, Director of Community Health at APD. “Upper Valley Smiles has been providing dental care since 2003, and in 2023 saw 409 children in need of dental care.”

“According to the New Hampshire Oral Health Coalition, there were 21 school-based sealant programs in New Hampshire before the COVID pandemic but nine have since closed making the needs even higher,” said Donnell. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 25% of children are currently experiencing untreated decay compared to 8% pre-COVID, that 52% of children have had a cavity in their baby teeth by the time they are eight years old, and that children in lower-income families are twice as likely to have cavities as their higher-income-family classmates. For many children, school-based programs are the only source of dental care.”

“This program allows access to dental care for many kids,” said Deborah Shields, RN, Canaan Elementary School. “Not all parents have the ability to take time off from work to get their kids to dental appointments. The importance of oral care is not always on parents’ radar, but many parents get information from schools, so this program provides both access and education.”

Dental hygienist Asha Clark, RDH, BSDH, CPHDH, has returned to provide dental services for Upper Valley Smiles in 2023-2024. Schools slated for visits from Upper Valley Smiles include Mt. Lebanon Elementary School, Enfield Village Elementary School, Hartland Elementary School, Dothan Brook Elementary School, and White River Elementary School.