Healthy Living in the North

Public dental health: A career that makes a difference

Spirit the Cariboo holding a toothbrush with a poster that shows how adults should brush with children.I’ve been working in dental prevention since I was 16 and I was extremely fortunate that my career found me. One of my childhood Girl Guide leaders worked at a dental office and called my mother to ask if I’d be interested in working part time. She said the dentist would train me.

Doors of opportunity

Saying “yes” to this opportunity opened many wonderful doors. I first worked as a “Girl Friday” doing errands for the dentist, and trained to do infection control. Next, I helped the dentist with checkups, fillings, extractions, and cleanings. I was lucky enough to study dental assisting and dental hygiene, and to become registered and licensed. After school, a door finally opened for me to work in dental public health, so I moved to Terrace.

Improving the health of many

Over 30 years of practice, I’ve met hundreds, probably thousands of people, and being trusted with their dental health has been an honour. A dental career in public health is particularly satisfying because we apply a population health approach, which means we look at improving everyone’s health by reducing inequities or unfair health factors. One way to reduce these is to design targeted programs to people who have less advantages.

I recently read a report called “Key Health Inequalities in Canada” where poor oral health was listed as an indicator of poor overall health. Poor health can mean that a person might not have the same advantages as others. At Northern Health, we design programs that consider the social, political, and economic disadvantages that people face. In the dental program, we focus on the youngest population – children six and under and their caregivers – because working with children has the potential for the most long-term impact. As a team, we need to work efficiently and effectively, so we can stretch health care dollars.

Dental health prevention in action

The Northern Health dental team screens all one-year-olds for tooth decay, and uses the results to decide which preventive services families need.

We also offer fluoride treatments to children of at-risk families, as well as supportive and non-judgemental counselling on preventive dental care. We encourage parents to use their best parenting strength or skills and then build on that.  We then encourage families to decide on the dental goals and path that work best for their situation. It’s a rewarding experience to see a worried, sleep deprived mother learn about tools she can use in her home to stop decay in her one-year-old’s teeth.

Supporting small steps in a healthy direction

Cavities are a chronic disease caused by bacterial acid’s progressive damage to teeth over time. Giving a family fluoride toothpaste and toothbrushes so they can brush twice daily reduces the acid’s impact and empowers change. Telling families to consider how much carbohydrate children eat, and how often, is also key in supporting better oral health.

Mothers have told us they‘re telling their friends to come to the program because of the benefits they’ve experienced. It’s rewarding to see people take small steps in a healthier direction. Not all of our clients are able to make our recommended changes, yet we continue to offer to see them and provide services to build meaningful relationships over time.

Working in Public Health Dental: making an impact

As we honour and meet people in the situations they’re in, I believe both dental staff and the clients see benefits. I feel very fortunate to be able to help someone with a skill that’s so critical to their long-term health. If you‘re a dental professional already, I encourage you to consider public health as a career path to explore — you won’t be disappointed. And if you’re exploring career options, consider dental health! You’ll impact families who need you, and it’s work that’ll make both your heart and mouth smile.

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.


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.