Transformation Funded Teledentistry Pilot Kicks off in rural Polk County

This month Meagan Kintz, an expanded practice dental hygienist, packed up her “virtual dental home” and brought teledentistry to an elementary school cafeteria. The first student received preventive cleaning, fluoride and sealants as part of a new teledentistry pilot project in Independence, Oregon funded under a grant and Clinical Innovation Fellowship through the Oregon Health Authority’s federal State Innovation Model grant.

“People just can’t access care,” Kintz said. “I hope this (pilot) spreads statewide.”

Linda Mann, director of community outreach for Capitol Dental Care, describes Independence as a “poverty hot spot” where few dental offices will take Oregon Health Plan patients and parents would have to drive their children 30 miles from Salem for an office visit.

The pilot targets 1,500 children in the Central School District of Polk County. Kintz already was working at the Central Health & Wellness Center performing dental diagnostics, prevention and early intervention services for children.

But getting elementary children to the high school for care proved difficult for some families. Now a teledentistry grant of $111,714 brings dentistry directly to classrooms and cafeterias with a laptop, software, portable X-ray unit and camera. The bulk of the grant went toward consulting fees to OHSU and University of the Pacific to design the pilot.

“If we can treat the children on site, it frees up a whole bunch of chair time for those kids who need restorative care,” said Mann who said most dental offices serving OHP patients are booked two to three months ahead for routine care due to the demand.

For children showing signs of tooth decay or in need of more services than the hygienist can provide, dentists review their records and x-rays using teledentistry.

“Another benefit of this program is we can case manage kids in pain into care in 24 to 48 hours,” Mann said.

“It’s all part of our pursuit of the Triple Aim,” said Hart Laws, president of Capitol Dental Care, “trying to provide better services more economically.”

“Children are a captive audience. You can reach them in schools,” said Dr. Eli Schwarz, professor and chair of the Department of Community Dentistry at OHSU. .

Up to 75 percent of children should be able to be “treated in place” with expanded practice dentist hygienists able to perform “scoop and fill” procedures with fluoride-releasing fillings, a care methodology that doesn’t need drills and is painless.

In Denmark, where Schwarz is from, school-based dental care has been available since the 1900s and in every school since the 1980s.

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