Tooth Tutor Supports Dental Health of Fletcher Students

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environment by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Steps – (1) Make relevant and authentic problems become the focus of connected learning. (2) Provide students with access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.

Indicator of Success – The school calendar and definition of school day changes to become flexible and responsive to the needs of students.

Heather Blair is better known to Fletcher students as the Tooth Tutor.

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A dental hygienist by trade, the former Fletcher parent has supported the dental health of children at the school for the past six years through the Tooth Tutor Program, a Medicaid-funded initiative that aims to teach students the skills necessary for lifelong oral health and match them with dental health providers.

Blair, whose interest in dental health was peaked when she volunteered to coordinate the fluoride program at the school, then attended dental hygiene school and approached FWSU about starting the Tooth Tutor program in its elementary and middle schools. She also works with preschool students in the Head Start Programs in Franklin, Grand Isle, and Chittenden Counties.

“One of our goals is dental education,” Blair said. “We make the lessons interactive and the students are really engaged. It sets them up for a lifetime of prevention rather than restorative care.”

According to Blair, dental decay, an underlying infection, is the most infectious transferable disease in children. It is seven times more prevalent in children than asthma.

“It’s the top disease in children,” Blair said. “And it has been linked to a number of other health issues.”

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In addition to dental education, Blair begins each school year by reviewing the school medical and dental records of all students. For children without a documented dental appointment within the past year, or without a dentist of record, Blair works to connect the family with a dental provider. She begins by sending a letter to the family offering support. Blair can also provide free dental screenings to determine if a child is in the preventative, restorative or active infection stage of dental need.

“The goal is that all children are being seen by a dentist regularly,” she said.

Blair credits the Tooth Tutor program with helping families access what can often be a challenging healthcare system. Many children who have Dr. Dynasaur, the childhood version of Medicaid, have difficulty finding a dentist to accept their insurance.

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We are able to get kids in,” Blair said. “We have referral sources that are actively taking Medicaid and we work hard to make the arrangements.”

During the teaching component of the program, Blair says preschoolers focus on what it might be like to visit the dentist. She shows them the tools and equipment that might be used, as well as the clothing that may be worn. As students progress through the grades, they learn proper brushing techniques, flossing, nutrition and facts about tooth decay. They use chewable food-grade colored tablets to mark the plaque on their teeth to support comprehensive brushing practice in the classrooms.

“I learned that you have to brush your teeth twice a day to stay healthy,” second grader Magnus Riggs said. “Otherwise you could lose all your teeth.”

“When you don’t brush your teeth there is plaque,” second grader Carver Leadbetter said. “That is bad because you can get cavities. You need to brush, floss and use mouthwash.”

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The Tooth Tutor Program is active in nearly half of all Vermont elementary schools.

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