Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 23 October 2012 13:50
Marga Ebel wanted her estate gift of about $350,000 for the Hillsboro Community Foundation to be used to help meet the health needs of children in the community.
The former teacher, who lived a conscientious and frugal life until her death a few years ago, likely would be pleased to know that her generosity will provide a new and novel dental-health program for students in USD 410 schools.
About $18,000 per year for the next three years will be designated from the Marga Ebel Fund to identify and address dental issues in students. Hillsboro Dental Care will be the primary service provider.
Superintendent Steve Noble said a committee of education and health-care providers, plus community representatives, was appointed to decide how best to use the Ebel funds. It concluded that dental care was a good fit after considering other options.
“It just tends to get overlooked,” Noble said. “When you think about it, it makes sense because what do we do as parents?
“We tend to put dental care off to the side because medical insurance oftentimes doesn’t cover it, and so you have to either pay out of pocket or get a supplemental dental insurance program—which many people don’t want to purchase.
“So it’s a (financial) hit when you go to the dentist.”
Noble said as the committee was doing its work, the Kansas Health Foundation happened to announce a new initiative focusing on dental health, calling it one of the biggest medical needs in the state.
“We were already down the road on this (new program) and thought that’s pretty cool,” Noble said of the coincidental affirmation of the committee’s work.
USD 410’s new program, where a school district partners with the community and a local dental office, may be the first of its kind in Kansas.
“Let’s put it this way,” Noble said. “We created this airplane as we were flying in the air. We didn’t have any place to go (for direction) but ourselves. We never did identify any other plan doing something like this.”
How it works
USD 410 has provided dental screening for students for several years now, thanks to a grant from the county health department.
The Salina Family Healthcare Dental Center has been performing the screenings. Each student is placed in one of four categories based on the status of his or her teeth.
A “1” rating means everything looks great; a “2” means the student has only minor issues; a “3” means professional attention is advised, but not urgent; a “4” means the student has critical needs that need immediate attention.
Until now, the best the school could provide were recommendations to parents about the dental health of their students. With the new program, parents who might not otherwise be able to afford dental care will receive financial assistance—with a cap of $1,000 per year, per child in order to serve more students.
“Many of the families with lowest income qualify for a medical card of some sort that would cover this work,” Noble said. “We don’t want to double dip.
“Frankly, it’s for the in-betweeners—the ones who earn too much to qualify for a medical card but they don’t have the money to take their kid to the dentist. That’s who we’re targeting.”
The program has two components. To qualify for the primary program, a family must have children attending a USD 410 school that received a “3” or “4” at the screening, must qualify for free or reduced lunches and have no medical card or dental insurance.
A second level of involvement, called the supplementary voucher program, provides a $50 voucher for all students—regardless of family income—who are screened and show the need for restorative or urgent care.
It also provides a $50 voucher for all second-grade students toward a sealant treatment.
Noble said the number of students that receive a 3 or 4 rating is higher than people might suspect.
“It was rather alarming,” he said. “What was most interesting was that fifth-graders had the highest level of any class of 3s and 4s.
“My theory is, when kids are young and have teeth that are still falling out and coming in, we’re just going to wait until all that happens,” Noble said from the perspective of being a parent. “Eventually, they get to fifth grade and we still haven’t done anything about those issues.”
He said offering a cost-reduction on sealant for all second-graders is an attempt to stave off the dental issues that have been emerging a few years later.
Brian Kynaston, a dentist and partner at Hillsboro Dental Care, said the practice’s contribution to the program is to provide quality services at a reduced rate—which helps to stretch the Ebel funds to assist even more students.
Kynaston said he is excited to be associated with the program.
“We feel really lucky to be able to help with these kids and try to give them a good start,” he said. “That was one of the reasons I decided to come this town—to be able to help the community and be a part of the community. That’s always been a goal of mine.”
Kynaston agreed with experts who say dental issues have a clear connection with overall health.
“When you’re not able to eat well, malnutrition comes and plays a big part,” he said. “When you have an infection in your mouth, then that directly relates to how our bodies are fighting off infection in other places.
“Gum disease has a huge relationship to diabetes and how well we control our blood sugars. It also has a direct relation in cardio-vascular disease.”
Kynaston added with a chuckle: “And nobody wants a toothache, that’s for sure.”
The Marga Ebel Children’s Dental Program has been approved for a three-year trial. Noble said that may be the minimum time needed to know if the effort is actually improving the dental health of students.
“In my opinion, we need three to five years of doing this program because people need to know this program exists,” he said. “If it’s a one- or two-year shot, I’m afraid people are going to say it will be here today and gone tomorrow—and won’t follow through.
“We want to make sure this program becomes widely known as a resource for parents to get these medical issues fixed.”
Because USD 410 does annual screenings, Noble said it will be relatively easy to monitor progress.
“We’ll be able to track that data, but the program needs time to grow and mature,” Noble said.
The program currently is limited to USD 410 students because of the accessibility of information that is acquired through the annual screenings.
“We’re trying to figure out how to extend it into our parochial-school attendees and home-school attendees, but right now it’s public-school kids only,” Noble said.
Flyers about the Marga Ebel Children’s Dental Care Program are available through USD 410.