United Way At Work: Dental Care Access Foundation


IMG_0675 The Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish Project Offers Preventative Care to Local Students Michelle Lawton remembers vividly the moment she became a dental care advocate—she had been working as a dental assistant at a local practice when a patient found out she needed over $7,000 worth of dental care and started to cry.

“That was it for me,” Lawton recalls. This led to her to pursue volunteering with the Dental Care Access Foundation, helping uninsured and low income adults.  “I knew I needed to help. By the time adults are grown, the damage to their teeth is already done. We need to help kids early.”

It’s the focus on prevention instead of intervention, a key tenant of the United Way philosophy, which caused Lawton and her friend Julie Michael, Executive Director for the Dental Care Access Foundation, to work with Heart of Florida United Way to develop the Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish project which is funded through the United Way’s health focus area.

In its second year of operation, the Varnish project has served approximately 4,000 students; 1,100 which were funded by United Way. As a result, more of the students are getting appropriate dental care and are missing less school due to tooth-related problems or pain. As part of this initiative, Michelle and Julie have partnered with Valencia Dental Hygiene students and the UCF Pre-Dental Student Association to go directly to Orange County Public Schools. Through the program, they offer one-on-one dental education, where they teach proper dental hygiene, brushing tutorials, and nutrition information.Each child is also provided with an age-appropriate dental hygiene kit, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss.

Afterwards, they then apply a topical fluoride varnish to help prevent cavities from developing. Michelle and Julie also help families navigate the healthcare system and explore their options. If during the consultations larger problems are discovered, they can refer families to low-cost clinics and community health centers for treatment. This program is a huge change for students. The varnish can be applied in a matter of seconds and the one-on-one sessions serve as a gentle introduction to the dentist.

With a laid-back approach and appearances from the UCF Pre-Dental program mascot Timmy the Tooth, the kids learn the dentist is not something to be scared of.

“For many,” Julie Michael says, “our dental hygiene kits give them the first opportunity to have their own toothbrush and not have to share one. It helps pave the way for a life-time habit of good dental hygiene and health.”

For more information about the Dental Care Access Foundation and how you or your company can support the Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish project, visit www.DentalCareAccess.org.

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