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Dental Care: From Urgent to Routine

Using outreach workers to enhance access and use of dental services

Monday, May 03, 2004

Maggie Petrosky

Eastman Dental Center, partnering with Strong’s Social Work Division, received a five-year, $250,000 grant from Healthy Tomorrows Partnership for Children.

The funding is from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, which is part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The “Dental Home for Children Project” will target children with significant unmet dental needs, who tend to use Eastman’s Pediatric Dentistry Clinic for emergency care.   The project will fund a full-time outreach worker who will offer families a wide range of services to address barriers to care and other related issues.  

Maggie Petrosky, who developed the grant with Eastman faculty, is the project’s principal investigator.  She has been a social worker with Eastman Dental Center and the Medical Center for nearly 10 years.

The Dental Home for Children Project has two goals:  to improve the oral health of targeted children by changing their use of pediatric dental services at the Eastman Dental Center site.  The second is to improve communication between the dental and primary pediatric care health systems.  This will enhance both the dental and primary medical care for impoverished and underserved children. 

The project includes formal communication between Eastman and the pediatric primary care community to inform pediatricians about their patients’ oral health.  It will also promote dental/medical partnerships that will assist in the reduction of oral health disparities. 

“Oral health is such an important marker for quality of life”, said Ms. Petrosky.  “I continue to be impressed by the personal stories that unfold in the dental setting when families are given a chance to talk.  Their stories are powerful, humbling, and unsettling, at times.  I am very excited about the opportunity to engage families in a meaningful way, using oral health as the avenue.” 

“This project dovetails perfectly with our other outreach efforts and helps us continue the legacy established so many years ago by our benefactor, George Eastman,” said Cyril Meyerowitz, chair of the Department of Dentistry and director of Eastman Dental Center.  “This is a logical extension of Ms. Petrosky’s work with the underserved and one that compliments the services we already provide.”

“To achieve the project goals,” Petrosky said, “case management/outreach services designed to foster and sustain positive experiences with the dental care system will be available to targeted families.  The outreach worker will function as an advocate and a formal link between families, Eastman and pediatric primary care sites with the overall goal of improved health.

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