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Photos: St. Christopher's Foundation for Children. 
Photos: St. Christopher's Foundation for Children. 

Dentists on wheels in North Philly

Providing and educating people about oral health has become a priority for the St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children (SCFC) for the last decade.

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North Philadelphia faces a long list of issues. Specially in terms of health-related problems.

The shortage of primary care physicians and disparities in food access are just some of these issues. An even more dire one is a lack of access to oral health resources.

For this reason, providing and educating people about oral health has become a priority for the St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children (SCFC) for the last decade. All of it thanks to a comprehensive oral health program developed by a team directed by Judy Gelinas, Community Oral Health Initiative Director.

"I came on in 2005,” she said. “They handed me the program and they say ‘Can you make it a dental program?’ providing access to care and that’s what I’ve been doing for 11 years."

The plan that Gelinas and SCFC have been implementing for more than a decade is based in what they call SCFC’s 5-Point Approach to Community Oral Health Services.

Education is one of the key points. Through a program called “My Marvelous Mouth,” the foundation provides oral health literacy in schools educating children at different ages about the importance of having a healthy mouth.

Another program the SCFC runs is called “Diamonds and Pearls.” The aim of this program is to educate the community at large.

“We call that program diamonds and pearls because your teeth are more precious than diamonds and pearls,” said Gelinas.

One of the most innovative programs at SCFC is “My Baby’s Smile.” This initiative is focused on educating expectant parents on oral health. The idea is to offer services and information to future mothers in order to decrease the risk of dental disease in their babies, but also to inform all the members of the family.

If there is one aspect the organization is extremely focused in it’s treatment, specially of those children who don’t have access to quality oral health care. They offer care five days and two nights a week all over the area through the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile.

“40 percent of our population is Hispanic and about 50 percent is African American,” she said.  “The rest is Caucasian and Asian. The majority of our population is the children of the North Philadelphia area, around St. Christopher’s hospital.”

A team consists of a dentist, a part-time dentist, a hygienist and a driver. They visit North Philly schools doing periodic check-ups and treating kids in school age.

“As soon as the first tooth comes in we see children up to age 13 as a new patient,” Gelinas said. “But I do make exceptions so I can keep family together if there are older children in the family and we are already serving their younger siblings.”

Around 3,000 kids benefit from this program annually. Since the initiative was launched, around 17,000 have received care. And the number may increase thanks to the new mobile clinic, which, according to Gelinas, “will be close to double the size and it will work more efficiently.”

This new vehicle will take to the streets in June.

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“Most of the staff in our program is bilingual, there is always someone who can talk to the family if their first language is not English and is Spanish,” she said.

The barriers that prevent children from getting care is one of the biggest concerns for organization and breaking them is one of the “secrets” of the program.

“We don’t have to worry about the parents having to leave work or having to take four buses or having to spend money on gas,” said Jamiliyah Foster, program director of SCFC “Or all of these other barriers that can occur, because our van can come to the school once we get parents permission and deal with the children right at the school.”

According to Gelinas, this mobile clinic not only works during school time.

“Although we see the majority of our children in schools, anybody can come and we have appointments where we have Tuesday and Thursday evenings and some times times when school is close. And that way, if a child leaves the school he can stay as a patient,” she said.

During the summer, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile switches from going to schools for summer camps.

To have more information about St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children’s oral health programs call  215 4274383 or visit www.scfchildren.org.

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