The Naples Children & Education Foundation, founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, awarded the University of Florida College of Dentistry a two-year, $1.8 million grant in support of the college’s community-based dental outreach programs providing preventive dental services to underserved children in Collier County. Coordinated by dental hygienist Susan Gorman, these programs serve pediatric patients at increased risk for oral health problems who face numerous challenges in accessing dental care.
Through the generous support of Naples Children & Education Foundation, or NCEF, the community-based dental outreach programs use portable dental equipment to provide no-cost preventive dental treatments for children in safe and convenient settings throughout Collier County. This community-based model effectively addresses the primary barriers to dental care experienced by many children and families – cost and transportation. Dental outreach programs are held in numerous locations including Head Start and early learning centers, Collier County elementary schools, and community sites in Immokalee, a town further inland with a high population of seasonal farmworkers living below the poverty line.
The community-based dental outreach programs are currently in their ninth year of funding from NCEF. Last year, the programs served over 5,200 children and provided preventive dental services including dental screenings, oral hygiene instructions, dental sealants and fluoride varnish. When needed, children also receive silver diamine fluoride, or SDF, an antimicrobial liquid that is easily applied to cavities with a small brush to help stop tooth decay progression. a
“Children who have existing dental problems are referred to the NCEF Pediatric Dental Center, a UF College of Dentistry center that also houses a pediatric dental residency program, for comprehensive care delivered by pediatric dental faculty and residents,” said Olga S. Ensz, D.M.D., M.P.H., a clinical assistant professor in the UF Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science, who oversees the dental outreach programs.
In addition to offering preventive services, the dental outreach team performs annual oral health screenings of all Collier County third-grade students to monitor children’s oral health status and evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs. Between 2014 and 2019, the presence of dental sealants in third-graders rose from 48 percent to 62 percent, illustrating the widespread impact of the outreach programs in increasing access to preventive dental treatments.
An important aspect of the community-based dental outreach programs is the delivery of oral health education in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. The outreach team includes dental auxiliary members who speak multiple languages including Spanish and Creole, allowing them to communicate effectively with patients and families as they provide oral hygiene and nutrition education to improve home care.
Ensz says that collaboration is another crucial component of the programs. Over the last few years, the dental outreach team has formed valuable partnerships with other community organizations supported by NCEF, with the goal of addressing the holistic health needs of vulnerable children in Collier County.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have the ongoing support of the NCEF and their generous donors. Their commitment to lifting up the underserved children of Collier County has made a lasting, immeasurable impact on thousands of children and their families over the years. We hope to continue to expand and enhance these collaborative efforts as we enter the next phase of our programs,” Ensz said.
In 2008, the UF College of Dentistry and the Naples Children & Education Foundation, founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, created the NCEF Pediatric Dental Center on the Florida SouthWestern State College campus in Naples to provide access to care and improve the oral health of children in the community.
Primarily funded by grants from the NCEF, the NCEF Pediatric Dental Center has since completed over 170,000 patient visits since opening in December 2008, including specialized care for children whose oral health needs are complex and require care in hospital operating rooms.
Oral Health is one of seven strategic initiatives of the Naples Children & Education Foundation. Their website states, “The ultimate goal of the NCEF Children’s Oral Health Initiative is to decrease the number of children in our community who suffer from dental disease and improve their oral health-related quality of life.” You can learn more on their site about their efforts to improve children’s oral health and other strategic initiatives on their website here.
More information about our NCEF Pediatric Dental Center