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The ugly tooth: Barriers in Brown County dental care

By Lea Kopke
Staff Writer

GREEN BAY – During the 2019-20 school year, Oral Health Partnership (OHP) hit record numbers and served almost 4,000 Brown County children before the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to shut down programs last March.

The organization provides free dental services to Brown County children who are on Medicaid, BadgerCare or are uninsured.

Julie Paavola, director of development and community engagement, said with the help of a new equipment van and a fourth clinic site, OHP aims to serve 2,500 students next school year.

The new van comes equipped with a loading dock to make transporting heavy equipment an easier task.

OHP held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the van and its 1245 Main St. building, complete with ice cream and guided tours, June 22.

Katy Compton, marketing coordinator, said the clinics reopened at reduced capacity last summer and have recently been booked out.

“There’s a need, and people are seeing that need, and luckily we’re here to help get that done,” Compton said. “But part of the other reason that we’re booked out is that we haven’t been able to go back into schools.”

Paavola said OHP normally provides in-school services in eight of the nine Brown County school districts, including exams, X-rays, assessments from a dentist, cleanings and sealants from a dental hygienist and mild operative work like fillings.

Students in need of extensive work are referred to OHP clinics.

Paavola said about six schools have semi-permanent or permanent locations with some equipment, but at most schools, OHP sets up mobile equipment the night before a clinic.

“We just basically set up a dental clinic wherever there’s space,” she said. “So, sometimes it’s been cafeterias or libraries, music rooms, extra offices, principal’s offices. I think we were even in a stairwell one time, so I think it just kind of depends where the schools can fit us.”

Amy Fish, Green Bay schools coordinator of community partnership and grants, said OHP provides service to 20 Green Bay schools, several of which have permanent or semi-permanent clinic locations.

“They serve all the students that have paperwork on file and come back six months later and follow up,” Fish said. “We’re trying to cultivate that six-month culture for students, of every six months going to get dental work done.”

She said students with dental pain are more likely to struggle with their academics, a fact that was made clearer to her after speaking with district teachers.

“I had a teacher, and I asked her flat out, ‘If you were in a test and had a call that there’s a student opening for an appointment, do you send them?’” Fish said. “And she said, ‘Yes, every time. If they are in dental pain they will not do well on that test.’”

Paavola said by providing a place for students to receive treatment during the school day, barriers are removed.

“I think that people don’t realize, especially (for) families that are living in poverty, how many barriers there are to something as routine as going to the dentist,” she said.” We might take that for granted.”

Fish said the clinics eliminate transportation and finance issues.

“If families use public transportation, the student is often out for the rest of the day,” she said. “But now the parent doesn’t have to worry about transportation or getting off work to see the dentist, and students can be in and out in just 20 minutes.”

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