The Impact of VISTA Service: Oral Health Education for All

October 16, 2015
Maren Iverson

Maren Iverson is a member of the 2015-16 CHC VISTA cohort currently serving with Community Dental Care. She recently finished a draft of a manual for PICOH (the Program to Improve Community Oral Health) which the 2014-15 CHC VISTA member began. Read on to learn about the positive impact her service has had at her service site and the importance of PICOH.

  1. What is the purpose and significance of the PICOH program? 

The Program to Improve Community Oral Health (PICOH) is an in-clinic oral health education program that provides oral health hygiene instruction, nutritional counseling, and oral health kits for low-income and minority children between the ages of 0-12 years old, pregnant mothers, and families. Its purpose is to reduce early childhood caries in children and to improve the knowledge of good oral health.

PICOH currently provides preventative care, risk assessments, and education for approximately 3,500 children and 250 pregnant mothers each year. The program also offers outreach presentations and free dental supplies at community centers, schools, and clinics to over 5,000 children and pregnant mothers annually.

2. Why was it necessary to create a PICOH manual? How will the PICOH manual benefit Community Dental Care beyond your VISTA term?

Currently, Community Dental Care has PICOH at two clinic locations (St. Paul and Maplewood) and is expanding the program to the Robbinsdale clinic. It is essential that new health educators at Robbinsdale are able to replicate PICOH and its specific protocol with the help of this manual. The manual will serve as a resource for training health educators about PICOH so Community Dental Care is able to reach and positively influence a greater number of children, pregnant women, and their families.

The manual will help standardize PICOH as it expands to new Community Dental Care locations. The program has proven to be effective at reducing early childhood caries and educating families about oral health and the manual will potentially help other clinics in Minnesota or beyond to develop an effective education program based on Community Dental Care’s program.

3. What role did you and the previous CHC VISTA member have with the manual?

The previous AmeriCorps VISTA member created a document outlining important PICOH protocol from scratch. I was able to expand the manual and its protocols to include detailed information for the three different levels of PICOH, children 0-5 years old, 6-12 years old, and pregnant women, so protocols for these groups can be replicated easily.

4. Anything else that you want people to know about PICOH?

The Robert Wood Johnson foundation identified Community Dental Care and PICOH as a promising workforce innovation that increases access to and availability of preventative oral health services, as part of a project titled Systemic Screening and Assessment of Workforce Innovations in the Provisions of Preventative Oral Health Services. PICOH was nominated with 25 other programs and evaluated on its program theory.

After the program evaluation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation considered PICOH one of the top 10 innovative community oral health programs in the nation. Recently, the Foundation visited Community Dental Care for a second time to learn more about the program. They were given a copy of the PICOH manual.

5. What have you learned and enjoyed while working on the PICOH manual? How can you apply this knowledge to future endeavors (graduate school, career, etc.?)

I thoroughly enjoyed being able to develop a detailed manual for PICOH and learned about the intricacies of describing replicable protocols. This education program is very important due to its widespread impact and I wanted to make sure other dental clinics could replicate PICOH if needed. I also learned an extraordinary amount about oral health topics, the importance of community clinics, and strategies for encouraging behavior change in patients.

It is my hope to become a dentist in the future and this knowledge has helped me learn about issues dental professionals face. I have learned about inadequate dental access, oral health illiteracy, and providing services to underrepresented populations. Awareness of these issues has encouraged me to work towards health equity them when I become a dentist.

6. Now that the draft is complete, what are the next steps for PICOH?

While the manual is complete for now, it will never really be final. Protocol and education will change to be more effective and this will be reflected in the manual. In the future, the PICOH manual will also include a section emphasizing preventative oral health care specific to children 0-2 years old.

The next step for PICOH includes expanding the program to Robbinsdale’s Community Dental Care clinic. I will help implement the program in this community.

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