Healthy Living in the North

Oral health is not an out of body experience

Spirit the Cariboo at a fluoride varnish clinic with an NH staff member.One of the things that always strikes me as odd is that the mouth is often considered a separate body part when we’re discussing health issues. Did you know an unhealthy mouth can affect your appearance, social acceptance, and ability to eat and sleep? An infection in the mouth comes from a bacterial infection; these bacteria have the potential to travel through the bloodstream and affect other organs. Many people don’t realize that oral infections can impact chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and even birth rates.

Your mouth is an important part of your body! And we all need to treat it as such in order to be and stay as healthy as possible.

Empowering healthy dental behaviours

I’m a dental regional program lead – I teach and provide resources and tools to empower public health staff to support our northern population around adopting healthy dental behaviours. Dental public health staff work towards helping people achieve the skills they need to start making small changes – commonly called brief action planning. We want them to start today to make a small change.

How small changes can make a big difference

If someone decides today to use fluoride toothpaste daily (or better yet, twice daily), when previously they did not, the science tells us that their long range dental decay rate will reduce.

If today, a teenager starts chewing a sugar-free piece of gum after a snack, the length of time of the acidic attack on their teeth will diminish, and they will have less decay over their lifetime.

If someone makes a small change every day, the dental preventive effect is maximized and continues to increase.

I dream of a day when all dental treatment needs are covered by a universal dental plan; however, at this time, I am happy to focus my attention on what I can practically influence.

The cost of prevention: a positive return on investment

My perspective is that the cost of prevention is cheaper than the cost of chronic disease treatment in hospital. I once had a client who had diabetes and a mouth full of decayed teeth, coupled with no funding to fully treat the oral health issue. Not being able to eat impacted this person’s diabetes, and uncontrolled diabetes affected their emotional stability, resulting in a long hospital stay. Chronic and untreated oral infections take a toll on the body and in this case, the finances of the health care system.

Advocating for change

I continue to advocate for the best avenues to help clients access dental care, but every day I encourage my staff to implement the practical applications of dental prevention. Some of these include:

  • Using fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
  • Reducing frequent sipping on sweetened beverages.
  • Practicing empathy and respect so patients feel comfortable.

It takes many caring individuals across a broad spectrum of disciplines to implement change. I continue to believe change for the better is always possible… even if it’s only one tooth brushing session at a time.

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

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Imagine a cavity-free world

Spirit the Cariboo holding a large toothbrush, standing against a mural of handprints.The Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future tells me to embrace the dream of a cavity-free world. It’s hard to capture what the burden of dental decay is, but estimates indicate that 35% of the population has cavities, which means 3.9 billion people are affected.

The World Dental Federation states that poor oral health affects our ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions with confidence and without pain or discomfort. Around the globe, 60-90% of school-aged children and nearly 100% of adults have experienced tooth decay. In fact, dental caries (or tooth decay) are the most common, yet preventable, chronic disease — so what’s the problem and what can we change to make a difference moving forward?

The levels of preventive dentistry

I’ve been working in various levels of preventive dentistry since I was sixteen. Every action I did as a chair-side dental assistant was to help the dentist help people to keep their teeth for their lifetime. My “after school job” turned into my career and I first trained to become a certified dental assistant and then a few years later, a registered dental hygienist. My goal was to work one-on-one with people to  support and teach them how to stop cavities in their mouths.

Next, I was lucky enough to move from the private-practice dental world to work in public health at Northern Health. We see at-risk clients and support them as individuals to adopt prevention strategies.

We also target groups and professionals who could share preventive messaging in their work. My career has given me room to grow — from serving the individual client, to serving a population.

I’ve recently grown into a position that supervises dental staff in our region. I continue to encourage dental staff to embrace the dream of preventing cavities in our patients. We often see poverty as an underlying driver of decay, so we look for ways to support and serve them; we advocate for policy changes that support our patients.

Making a difference

Over the years, we’ve made a difference in people’s lives — the staff can tell you rewarding stories of gratitude from the families we serve. However, dental decay is such a big problem that it makes our efforts seem small.

When I discovered that there’s a worldwide body of people championing a cavity-free world, I was very excited! The Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future works together to advocate for good dental prevention practices. They could reach beyond the local dental office and public health sphere and shift dental outcomes in our culture. As Steve Jobs said, “Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, usually do.”

The Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future

Here’s some history of this world-changing group: In February 2016, the Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future put on the World Caries Prevention Symposium in Dubai. The event brought together experts from key disciplines, including nutrition, education, behaviour change, cariologists (how-to stop cavity experts), public health, clinical practice, and integrated management of cavities.

These experts came from across the globe to debate and strategize the practical steps to move the world toward a cavity-free state. Researchers report that more and more people around the world are getting cavities.

Some of the group’s goals to stop decay were:

  • Educate the whole medical team to champion dental prevention.
  • Support the most effective behaviour change models to be used in dentistry, like Brief Action Planning (a short discussion to help people to make a new health goal).
  • Experts on cavities think the best way to stop decay is to wait longer between meals, so our mouths have time to rest.
  • The same experts also think reducing the amount of sugar we eat to only 10% of our daily calories would help reduce cavities.

For more information

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

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Oral Health Month: think mouth, think health

The most rewarding parts of my day-to-day work happen when I have the opportunity to really make a positive change within a family. While this may not happen all the time when it does, it is truly motivating. I’ve been a practising Dental Hygienist for 29 years and have been very fortunate to have worked in different practise settings that have provided a variety of experiences.  I’m privileged to work with many caring people from different disciplines, all who assist families to access services that help to make healthy changes in their client’s lives.

In the dental program at Northern Health, we provide penlight oral assessments and fluoride varnish as well as information and education on oral health, with a focus on children up to 5 years of age. I’ve met many wonderful children over the years but one encounter in particular stands out for me.

A preschooler at one of the programs that the dental team attends was very reluctant to let us see inside their mouth because it was sore and the teeth were sensitive. Once the child allowed us a look, we saw that there were areas of decay and infection. The Speech Pathologist who worked with the child was also concerned as the child did not speak often or clearly and seemed withdrawn, so we contacted the family to ask if we could assist with finding a dentist. The family had encountered many barriers and had been unable to obtain the care the child needed. Fortunately, we were able to assist and the child received treatment, which was rewarding in itself, as the family was appreciative and the child was out of pain. But the true gift was when the Speech Pathologist told us that the first clear word the child spoke was their infant sibling’s name, along with a huge smile.

mouth graphic brushing teeth.

The health of your mouth affects your overall health!

 

As you can see from this story, the health of your mouth affects your overall health, speech included! If your mouth is not healthy it can also affect your appearance, confidence, social acceptance, ability to eat and sleep, and have negative impacts on chronic diseases such as diabetes. Baby teeth are especially important for speech development, eating, overall health, and are often overlooked as they fall out. The good news is that you can follow basic steps to maintain good oral health! At the Canadian Dental Association you can learn more about Oral Health Month and how to keep your mouth happy and healthy.

If there’s one thing to remember after this April: think mouth, think health!

Lynn Barager

About Lynn Barager

Lynn has been a practicing dental hygienist for 29 years, during which she has had the wonderful opportunity to work in a number of different practice settings. As a community dental hygienist with Population and Public Health, Lynn works with young children and their families to promote a lifetime of healthy smiles. Prince George has been Lynn’s home for the majority of her life and when not at work, Lynn enjoys spending time with her family and volunteering with the local synchronized swimming club.

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Teeth matter

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


Spirit the caribou in front of baby teeth poster

Baby teeth are important for jaw development, chewing, speech development, and spacing. Mouth care for kids starts sooner than you may realize!

What would we do without our teeth?

Strong, healthy teeth are a vital part of our overall health and daily living. They are a unique part of our bodies. They come in all shapes, colours, and sizes, and help us with jaw development, to chew, to speak, and even to smile.

Yes, teeth matter!

Caring for your teeth is very important and needs to be done every day.  As a community dental hygienist with Northern Health, my role is to help educate parents and children in keeping their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

Here are some simple oral health tips I share often:

  • Help your children brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Lift your child’s lip one time a month and check for new teeth or signs of decay.
  • Bring your child to your family dentist when they are around one year old.
  • Offer water instead of sugar drinks when they’re thirsty.
  • Offer a variety of healthy foods and limit sugary snacks.
Spirit mascot in front of poster

You can keep your child’s teeth healthy by brushing them in the morning and before bed, starting as soon as those teeth erupt. Use a little smear of toothpaste that has fluoride in it.

Teeth really do matter. I have seen the devastating effects that tooth decay can have on our health. Decay can cause loss of appetite and loss of sleep, ultimately leading to delays in growth, learning and development. It can affect our desire to smile and to socialize. If tooth decay is left to abscess, serious health issues may develop and may require antibiotics and other medications,-even hospitalization. Loss of schooling and /or work may occur.

At Northern Health, we provide free dental screenings and fluoride varnish treatments to children six years and under. We can also help connect you with a family dentist.

The good news is tooth decay is preventable and with proper daily oral hygiene and a limited sugary diet, your smile can last you a lifetime.

For more information on how to protect your oral health check out the following resources:

Carmen Gottschling-Aceto

About Carmen Gottschling-Aceto

Carmen is a Community Dental Hygienist living and working in beautiful Prince Rupert. She joined the Northern Health dental team part-time in 2012 and continues to work part-time in private practice. She loves working with families and educating them on good oral health practices. Born and raised on the north coast, she has an ultimate passion for fishing and hunting which she shares with her husband. They are raising three active teenage children. As a family they enjoy attending and coaching the kids various activities, camping and just spending quality time together.

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Helping your child embrace the open cup

Caribou mascot in front of oral health poster

For a lifetime of healthy smiles, let your child drink from a lidless, regular cup.

Sippy cups are popular with parents and preschoolers alike. Many parents find comfort in knowing that there will be less mess with these spill-proof cups. They sure are handy for families on the go!

But did you know that drinking from an open cup, rather than a sippy cup, helps kids develop good tongue movements needed for speech? It may also encourage more communication and interaction, helping kids learn new sounds and words! There are also worries about dental health and nutrition if kids have regular access to sippy cups with drinks other than water. When kids carry around their sippy cups (as they often do) they tend to sip their drink over long periods of time, leading to cavities and ruined appetites.

So, how do families balance this information with the realities of everyday life? Adults play an important role in deciding what drinks to offer kids and the manner in which they are offered. Many parents find it helpful to try limiting the use of sippy cups for times when mess is an issue, like on your neighbour’s new white carpet! Or, try filling sippy cups with plain water rather than juice or milk to help prevent cavities. Whether it’s an open cup or a sippy cup, children do best with regular, sit-down meal and snacks and water in-between to satisfy thirst.

Here are some tips to help encourage the use of open cups:

  • Remove the valve on the sippy cup to help children learn to drink without sucking.
  • Use small cups that are easier for children to hold.
  • Bring home a new, special cup or let your child pick one out from the store.
  • Sit and eat with your child so they can see you drink from an open cup.
  • Avoid distractions such as toys, TV, or computers when eating or drinking to help your child focus on the task at hand.

With your example, and lots of chances to learn, children will master and enjoy drinking from an open cup in no time!

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Baby teeth: Why they are important

Spirit mascot in front of poster

You can keep your child’s teeth healthy by brushing them in the morning and before bed, starting as soon as those teeth erupt. Use a little smear of toothpaste that has fluoride in it.

They eventually fall out and are collected by the tooth fairy anyways, so why are baby teeth so important?

Healthy baby teeth are important for many reasons:

  • Baby teeth hold the space for the replacement adult teeth.
  • Baby molars will not fall out until your child is about 12 years old.
  • Early loss of a baby tooth may cause the movement of the other teeth, possibly resulting in crowding or bite problems.
  • Baby teeth are important for appearance, proper chewing of foods, and speech.

But, since those baby teeth are not meant to last a lifetime, their outer covering (enamel) is not as thick or hard as the enamel on adult teeth. The enamel in the first 18 months after a tooth erupts is fragile and can decay very quickly.

Why does this matter? Just like in adults, tooth decay in our kids may cause pain, infection, difficulties chewing, problems sleeping or concentrating, and poor self-esteem. Tooth decay is largely preventable. Health care providers, child care providers, and parents can all work together to spread healthy messages regarding oral care and we can all model behaviours that can lead to a reduction in tooth decay and oral health problems.

You can keep your child’s teeth healthy by:

  • Brushing your child’s teeth in the morning and before bed, starting as soon as those teeth erupt. Use a little smear of toothpaste that has fluoride in it.
  • Do not put your child to bed with a bottle or, if you do, offer only water in the bottle.
  • Help your child to learn to drink from an open cup (not a sippy cup). This can be used for small sips of water starting at 6 months and for milk starting between 9-12 months.
  • Limit how often your child gets sticky, sugary foods and drinks. Children one year and older benefit from 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day. These should be spaced 2-3 hours apart. Choose a variety of healthy foods that do not stick to the teeth.
  • Make an appointment for your child’s first dental appointment by their first birthday or about 6 months after their first tooth erupts.
  • Lift your child’s upper lip once a month to check for any whitish marks on the teeth which may be the start of decay.
  • Avoid saliva sharing habits like using the same spoon.
  • Parents should have any decay treated to reduce the chances of passing on the cavity causing bacteria to their child.
Brenda Roseboom

About Brenda Roseboom

Brenda was born and raised in Terrace. She has worked in the community first as a certified dental assistant and then as a hygienist. After being in private practice for many years, she joined the Northern Health dental team in May of 2016. Brenda enjoys gardening, quilting, and many other crafting hobbies. The beauty of B.C. continues to amaze her and keeps her rooted in the north.

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Oral Health Month: Working in the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic

Spirit the caribou in front of baby teeth poster
I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be involved in the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic (EDOC) as the clinic coordinator. It’s an amazing clinic where our services are extremely valued. This year, EDOC was even nominated for a Healthier You Award in the Outstanding Multicultural Contribution category! With Oral Health Month now upon us, I wanted to take this chance to tell you a little more about this special service.

What is the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic?

EDOC is a not-for-profit clinic that was started in 2006 by Carole Whitmer, RDH, and Dr. Richard Wilczek as they sought to remove barriers for community members without access to dental care.

There are 20 not-for-profit clinics in B.C. and, apart from coordinator support offered by Northern Health, the clinic in Prince George is the only one that operates strictly with the support of volunteers. I think this speaks volumes to the amazing Prince George dental community! This clinic is only possible because of community partnerships between the local dental community, the Native Friendship Centre (who provide free space, accounting, utilities, and security), and Northern Health.

What do we do at the clinic?

The clinic provides a place for people to go to have emergency dental care free of charge. It is an extraction service only and runs in the evenings on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month out of a clinic in the Native Friendship Centre (1600 3rd Avenue, Prince George). Although free of charge, we gratefully accept donations, which help cover the cost of supplies.

Who uses EDOC services?

The people who access EDOC come from a variety of backgrounds and locations, but the common thread is a need and appreciation for the no-barrier access to emergency dental care. We have many repeat customers and there is a sense of community and caring amongst those waiting. A few months ago, on one of the coldest nights of the year, one of our clients left after his extraction only to return with a “Take 10” of Tim Hortons coffee for the dental volunteers and those still waiting for care! Even though those who use the clinic face financial challenges, what I’ve seen is that they gratefully donate what they can for the treatment provided.

EDOC is a much needed and appreciated program that serves the Prince George and the outlying areas – I feel lucky to be a part of this great program!

Jane Bartell

About Jane Bartell

Jane works at Northern Health as the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic coordinator and as a community dental hygienist, travelling to many communities in the northern interior. Her passion is to have children in the north grow up as healthy as possible, especially from a dental perspective. In her spare time, Jane most enjoys spending time with family and friends hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing on the amazing trails around Prince George. She also enjoys the great music culture that Prince George offers.

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Oral Health Month: Caring for the health of our children’s teeth!

Spirit the caribou entering fluoride varnish clinic

Brenda and her colleagues offer free dental assessments and fluoride varnish applications to children ages 0-6.

Most adults realize having strong, healthy teeth is important. But did you know that having healthy baby teeth is just as important? Childhood tooth decay may result in pain and infection. Pain impacts your child’s ability to chew, sleep, and concentrate at school. Active decay also increases the risk of cavities in adult (permanent) teeth.

The good news is childhood decay is very preventable, but it does require a few good daily habits such as daily brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and healthy feeding practices.

My Northern Health regional dental program colleagues and I work to educate parents and caregivers to prevent decay in children’s teeth. We offer oral health instruction, feeding tips, and fluoride varnish applications. We want to teach the public how the systemic use of water fluoridation improves the dental health of a community. Finally, we teach community partners and other health care providers prevention strategies to ensure that good dental messaging is being presented by all sorts of different people and different professions involved in the care of our children. Our partners are nurses, early childhood care providers, and parent groups – and our education helps to ensure that they have accurate dental messages to provide to their community.

For many families in our region, it isn’t always easy to access a dentist’s office. My colleagues and I in Northern Health’s dental program aim to encourage a family’s relationship with a dentist and support the parent or parents to make changes that can reduce the risk of tooth decay for their child. We offer free dental assessments and fluoride varnish applications to children ages 0-6. The fluoride varnish helps to stop or lessen tooth decay and is used by Northern Health to reduce the rate of childhood cavities.

Since joining the dental team in the spring of 2016, I have come to realize how great the needs concerning early childhood caries are. From 2010-2014, for example, 1,504 children in northern B.C. required treatment in hospital operating rooms for dental work. This is three times higher than the provincial average and uses valuable hospital time and resources.

I provide fluoride varnish clinics two times a month at the Terrace Health Unit and once a month at the Kitimat Health Centre. Come see me! In addition, I am available to do clinics at other locations and provide education for parent groups and caregivers. My greatest reward is being able to offer encouragement to those who need it, providing advice on changing a habit, or having a reluctant child get to the point where they can have a complete exam and any necessary dental work done in a dental office instead of in the hospital!

I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned and what I do with the dental team, I will motivate parents and those involved with caring for our children to value children’s dental health. Modelling good behaviours and providing daily brushing with a fluoride toothpaste can result in better dental and oral health for children.

Brenda Roseboom

About Brenda Roseboom

Brenda was born and raised in Terrace. She has worked in the community first as a certified dental assistant and then as a hygienist. After being in private practice for many years, she joined the Northern Health dental team in May of 2016. Brenda enjoys gardening, quilting, and many other crafting hobbies. The beauty of B.C. continues to amaze her and keeps her rooted in the north.

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A lifetime of healthy smiles

Did you know that tooth decay is the third most common disease in Canada? And that four in 1000 children require dental treatment in hospital operating rooms? Not only that, but dental caries (cavities) interferes with a child’s ability to eat, sleep and thrive.

The good news is that dental caries is a preventable disease! Simple changes to you and your child’s diet and dental health behaviour can have a great impact on the development of a healthy mouth and a bright smile. Oral Health Month is a great time to start these changes!

Display with food photos

There are some foods that seem to protect against tooth decay, including hard cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella, nuts, meats, fish, poultry, and eggs.

What can you do?

  • Take care of your own dental needs. Decay-causing bacteria can be spread from person to person so brush and floss daily and have the dentist remove active decay. Limit passing bacteria to infants by not sharing toothbrushes or cutlery and by not licking soothers to clean them.
  • Once teeth appear, brush your child’s teeth twice daily with a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Don’t rush your brush! Starting at one point, slowly work your way around the entire mouth until the fronts, backs, and chewing surfaces of both the upper and lower teeth are done – this will take you three to five minutes.
  • At least once a month, lift your child’s lip to check for newly erupted teeth and white or brown spots on the teeth.
  • Teach your child to drink from a regular, lidless cup. Offer plain water instead of other liquids for thirst between meals. Limit acidic drinks like pop and fruit beverages.
  • A balanced diet is crucial to the development and maintenance of healthy teeth and gums. Choose a variety of healthy foods that do not stick to teeth. There are some foods that seem to protect against tooth decay, including hard cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella, nuts, meats, fish, poultry, and eggs.
  • Start regular dental visits at age one or after teeth start appearing. Refer children with signs of dental decay to dental staff at your local health unit. Public health dental staff offer free counseling and fluoride varnish treatments.

For more information, visit the BC Dental Association or HealthLink BC.


Look for this article – along with several other stories about child health – in the upcoming (Summer 2016) issue of Healthier You magazine!

 

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

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Certified Dental Assistants: A passion for healthy smiles!

Two toothbrushes

Northern Health has a dedicated team of public dental health professionals who are busy promoting healthy dental behaviours!

April is Oral Health Month!

You may not know that Northern Health has a dedicated team of public dental health professionals who are busy promoting healthy dental behaviours! This Oral Health Month, I’d like to celebrate and acknowledge the work that our Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs) provide. CDAs are educated, trained dental professionals who make important assessments about patient care every day. The five ladies who make up this team are often the first person that clients meet in their community – whether it’s at family health events, Strong Start, or our fluoride varnish clinics.

I had the privilege of interviewing each of the CDAs last month and discovered the deep passion each has for working with children and families. I asked that they share a few stories and reflections here with you.

Thank you for taking time to read and consider the support these ladies provide in our communities!

Pamela:

I am a Certified Dental Assistant working as a Community Dental Assistant for Northern Health. I’ve been working for six years and during that time, I have been in contact with multiple families. The families that made the biggest impression on me were the ones who had children with early childhood caries. Sometimes these children are in pain and you can really tell that their self-esteem is low. They also struggle to eat well.

After these children are treated and their pain is alleviated, the difference can make you cry! I like to compare it to a flower that is blooming – so beautiful and happy! There is nothing better than watching a child start to thrive again, eat, and be healthy and happy! This is what makes me love my job and makes me passionate about healthy children.

Wendy:

I appreciate the variety that my job as a dental assistant in public & population health offers. I love working with young children and their parents and especially enjoy working with immigrant families. Recently, our dental program was invited to the multicultural society in Prince George to meet with several new refugee families from Syria. A co-worker and I did basic teaching around oral health, screening and referral for obvious dental needs, and did fluoride applications for children under 6 years. The children and I got a great laugh as I attempted to pronounce their names. They had no problem with my name! All in all, it was a great privilege to meet these families and to be a small part of not only helping them on the road to achieve better dental health, but also to show compassion and friendship as they face many new challenges in adjusting to their new life in Canada.

Louise:

When I think of a success story in my time as a Certified Dental Assistant, I remember the first time I went out to see families in a remote community. I was screening children and doing fluoride varnish with the parents present. One mom had several children at the Health Unit. She brought her 18 month old last. We did a “knee-to-knee” dental exam and “lift-the-lip.” As we looked at this child’s teeth, I noticed the start of cavities. Not just white lines, but brown, stained upper anterior teeth with ditching in them. Further investigation revealed that the mom was breastfeeding ad lib, wasn’t brushing for the child, and that the family had cavities themselves.

I encouraged brushing at least 2-3 times a day with fluoride toothpaste and showed how to brush. I also discussed decay-causing acids from the frequency of sugary drinks, such as juice, pop, or even milk. Breast milk was the best option for her child so I encouraged continuing on, but really stressed the importance of brushing with fluoride toothpaste, having fluoride varnish done, and taking her child to the dentist. I said if we did these things, her child may not have to have work done in the hospital within the next year or two, and we could keep those cavities “at bay” until the child was able to sit in the dental chair to have the work done.

The next time I spoke with mom, she had taken him to the dentist and was brushing lots with fluoride toothpaste. The dentist had scooped out some decay and burnished the fluoride varnish into the cavitation. The fluoride varnish was done routinely (about every 2-3 months) and the teeth strengthened. We built a relationship of trust through these fluoride varnish appointments. Her child had some dental work done while sitting in the chair at 5 years of age. The upper anterior teeth weren’t involved; it was the back molars that had fillings done. There was no hospital work done and fewer cavities/fillings. Overall, we saw much better outcomes. We still have a trusting relationship when I see her and her family in the community. Now, her children are having children: the next generation. Hopefully there will be more great changes in their dental health and overall health!

Thank you card

Thank you card received by a Certified Dental Assistant.

Dianne:

This is a very special card to me. The inside note says, “You have been an amazing ‘Tooth Fairy’ for us!”

This was given to me by a very grateful young mother. This mom’s 2.5 year old was in urgent need of dental treatment. When they came to me, he had already been on antibiotics and was not sleeping or eating very much. Mom was very worried and did not know where to start to help her son.

Because of some special circumstances, this mom had spent over two years trying to figure out the paperwork to get dental coverage for her son. She had even started some personal fundraising for dental care, but even these funds had to be redirected to a family emergency.

I got involved and supported the many levels of communication required in this case. There was communication to coordinate with a dental office (which took the case knowing that they may not be paid), local government staff for travel arrangements, local and regional administrators, doctors’ offices, Save a Smile program, dental therapist, and a local church.

Ultimately, people worked together and this child received full treatment within one month of their visit with me! The family was not able to pay the dental office in full at the time but the mom is still committed to sending this office extra money as she is able to. Mom is so thankful that her child sleeps and eats well and can run and play as a child should. I see him regularly for fluoride varnish; he is doing very well and will start kindergarten in the fall. He and others like him are why I love my job!

Kim:

After I graduated as a Certified Dental Assistant and started working, I quickly realized that chair-side assisting wasn’t for me. I wasn’t proud of the work I was doing or the setting I worked in. I job-hopped for a while gaining experience and looking for something that would satisfy my mind. The job-hopping stopped when I was hired as a Public Health Certified Dental Assistant!

Public health has given me the opportunity to use my life skills and personal abilities in my daily work in a way that I wasn’t able to in an office setting. I’ve also had a lot of personal growth in this career. It has come to me through different work experiences such as teaching clients, presenting to groups, coaching clients through oral hygiene changes, learning about statistics and cultures, gaining computer skills, and the freedom to use my creativity to reach people when the “usual” way doesn’t work.

My career as a Public Health Certified Dental Assistant has contributed to me being a well-rounded person with the confidence to tackle whatever is in front of me.

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

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