Dental Hygienist Celeste Terry knows the link between oral health and overall health, which is why she’s committed to being part of Well-Ahead’s Louisiana Seals Smiles program.
Louisiana Seals Smiles provides funding and resources for collaboration between oral health providers and schools in an effort to improve the oral health of children ages 6-14. Through the program, Well-Ahead Louisiana works with a variety of partners across the state to promote, coordinate, implement and evaluate School Sealant Programs in elementary and middle schools. To be eligible for Louisiana Seals Smiles, schools must be located in dental health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) in which at least 50% of students qualify for federal or state free/reduced meal programs.
“This program is a blessing for children who are often underserved and reside in low-income households,” says Terry, who works at EXCELth, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in New Orleans. “In most cases, parents and children aren’t avoiding the dentist’s office by choice. In some communities across our state, there’s very little access to oral healthcare and when there is a dentist, they might not necessarily accept Medicaid as payment for services. Well-Ahead Louisiana and Louisiana Seals Smiles are breaking down those barriers.
School Sealant Programs deliver dental sealants—which are thin, colorless, plastic coatings placed on molar teeth to prevent cavities—to children who are less likely to receive dental care. Dentists and hygienists also have the opportunity to conduct thorough oral exams and screenings while identifying children who might be at risk for oral health complications. Services are offered to children free of charge.
EXCELth is also working to break down barriers to care. As an FQHC, EXCELth provides primary care, oral, and behavioral health services to low-income and underserved residents across their service areas in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In 2020 alone, the health center served over 8,200 individual patients – most of whom rely on Medicaid and public assistance.
Celeste Terry, Dr. Douglas Cross and the entire oral health team at EXCELth are well-known across the state for their innovative work and passionate advocacy as it relates to oral health for underserved populations. It’s no wonder then that, since 2018, they have served as champions for Louisiana Seals Smiles and as a shining example for what the program can accomplish.
“It was through the Louisiana Oral Health Coalition that we first heard about Louisiana Seals Smiles,” says Celeste. “Taking part in this program was a no-brainer! While we were already heavily involved in oral health, it allowed us the opportunity to double our efforts and make an even more profound impact in our schools.”
Using their mobile dental unit, EXCELth has the capability to set up shop in school parking lots and give children a fun, comfortable experience with a dentist or hygienist.
“It’s fun to see how excited the children get when they have the opportunity to see a dentist,” says Celeste. “They run to tell their classmates about the experience and before you know it the whole class is excited.”
And who wouldn’t enjoy a visit from Seymour Smiles? Seymour, a human sized crawfish who is passionate about oral health, often accompanies Celeste and her team when they’re visiting a school. Together, they share tips on eating healthy, proper teeth brushing and ways in which to ensure a happy and healthy smile.
Improving our residents’ oral health is one way to move the health of the state forward. Get your dental clinic or school involved in Louisiana Seals Smiles. Contact Well-Ahead Louisiana and visit our website for more information.