“The more questions I asked, the more interested I became,” said Devin Olden to his fellow public health students at Campbell University as he spoke on the importance of oral health to overall health.
Olden was one of four students to participate in Team Oral Health, a practicum experience led by the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation’s (FHLI) North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative (NCOHC), designed to introduce Campbell University public health students to oral health issues in the state.
On Nov. 21, four of Campbell’s first-year public health students took turns sharing what they learned during the semester-long practicum in which they dove deep into some of the most pressing public health issues facing North Carolina.
Olden and his classmates, Chinenye Odobo, Hannah Faulkner, and Kristen Lamberth, spoke about several pressing topics, including:
- Disparities in access between urban and rural communities
- How language barriers prevent significant portions of the population from seeking care
- How interconnected oral health is to a myriad of health issues, from diabetes and cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s.
- How increasing dental hygienists’ scope of practice can significantly increase access to affordable oral health care among marginalized communities.
“This just opened my eyes into this whole community that I didn’t even know existed, and the challenges they face.”
Medfest: Impacting Oral Health in Harnett County
Earlier in the semester, the four Campbell students who made up Team Oral Health stepped out of the classroom to interact directly with the Harnett County community, providing oral health services at Medfest, a pre-event leading up to the Special Olympics.
MedFest events are hosted by Special Olympics North Carolina to help participants receive sports physicals and health examinations before taking part in athletic events.
Campbell’s Team Oral Health worked to add dental screenings and fluoridation treatments to the agenda, as well as fun activities to promote oral health literacy.
At the front of the class, from left to right, Olden, Lamberth, Odobo, and Faulkner talk with fellow students about oral health in North Carolina.
The Takeaway: Prevention is Key for Good Oral Health
Looking back on a semester of learning and service, Team Oral Health made sure to point out the importance of preventive treatment to increase positive oral health outcomes.
Oral health can be incredibly expensive, especially if tooth decay, gum disease, and other issues are left untreated. North Carolinians visit emergency rooms for oral care at twice the national rate, and in operating rooms over 40 million dollars is spent annually.
That cost could be significantly reduced if more North Carolinians had early access to preventative care.
NCOHC and FHLI are working hard, engaging unique partners like the students in Campbell’s MPH program to address disparities in oral health care and increase access to preventive treatments.
“If you recieve preventive treatment early, you significantly reduce costly oral health issues down the road. Unfortunately, so many in North Carolina simply can’t access that first step. We are working to address systemic barriers that limit this type of access”
—Dr. Zachary Brian, Program Director, NCOHC
Dental sealants and fluoridation treatments can significantly reduce the risk of negative oral health outcomes, and they are far more affordable than cavity fillings, tooth extractions, or other restorative procedures.
To learn more, be sure to check out NCOHC’s resources, like our Portrait of Oral Health and our tips for individuals seeking care. To stay up to date, be sure to join our email list.