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Fluoride varnishing and exams help protect kids’ teeth

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Carlie Beem, I-Smile Coordinator at MICA, goes into schools and Head Start facilities in Marshall and surrounding counties to apply fluoride varnishes to children’s teeth, and provide educational resources on dental care. Here, dressed as a toothbrush, she applies this varnish on five-year-old Vayda Pentz’s teeth at the Head Start at First United Methodist Church.

Helping children make good dental decisions early in life can help put them on the path to good oral hygiene as adults. But language barriers, lack of transportation, no health insurance, and living in poverty can all be obstacles in helping youngsters keep their teeth healthy and clean.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s I-Smile dental program is a way to help children get connected with dental care. Locally, Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) holds the grant for this program, serving children in Marshall, Tama, Story, Boone and Hardin counties. These providers conduct dental screenings and apply fluoride varnish to kids at WIC clinics, Head Starts and schools, as well as provide educational resources for parents, and dental referrals.

“We go into Head Starts and schools and provide students with a short educational session, then apply the varnish, which is an elective procedure parents can opt out of,” said Carlie Beem, I-Smile Coordinator at MICA, who is also a public health dental hygienist.

The varnish, which is painted onto the teeth using a small brush, helps strengthen teeth to make them more resistant to decay. Parents fill out informational forms for I-Smile reps to evaluate. Then each child is given a “report card” that evaluates his/her oral health.

“Children ages 4-5 are at least in the moderate risk category when we exam them, and put in the high risk if we find decay,” Beem added. “Sometimes we see [on the forms] that a child has never been to the dentist before. We recommend children see the dentist by age one.”

Making the experience as fun and comfortable as possible is a high priority.

“We give the children activity books we get from Delta Dental, and a goodie bag,” Beem said.

She said school dental audits are given to students in kindergarten and ninth grade, and sealants are applied to students in third and seventh grades.

Beem also dresses in costume (a giant toothbrush) when conducting these classroom visits.

The I-Smile Program at MICA completed 4,031 dental screenings in Marshall County alone in 2016-17, and did almost as many fluoride varnishes.

“A few of the children we see at WIC do not have teeth yet, so not quite all of the dental screenings also have the fluoride varnish,” she said.

Another component in the fight against childhood tooth decay, said Beem, was the acquisition of bottle filling stations at three of Marshalltown’s public schools. In the fall of 2017, the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation awarded $230,000 to update the water fountains in 54 selected schools in Iowa.

“Marshalltown has really good drinking water, and that’s one of the reasons our schools were chosen,” Beem said. “The factors included water quality with fluoridated water and schools with a high free and reduced lunch status.”

The schools that received these new filling stations are Hoglan and Fisher Elementary Schools and Lenihan Intermediate School.

According to information provided on its website, the Foundation’s long-term goal is “to have Iowa children ages 0-12 living in homes with incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty level cavity free by 2020.”

To learn more about I-Smile, contact Beem at: 641-752-7162, ext. 150.


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or