Program Highlight: Virginia Garcia School-Based Health Center Launches Tele-Dentistry Program

Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center is a community health center that provides health care to more than 45,000 individuals in Washington and Yamhill counties each year. Offering medical, dental, behavioral and mental health services, they have five medical, five dental, six school-based health centers and one women’s clinic in addition to their mobile clinic that provides health services to migrant and farm workers during the summer months.

During the 2017-18 school year, the school-based health centers began offering a state certified sealant program to 21 schools in Washington County, Oregon. The program also launched a two month tele-dentistry pilot in October. In addition to assessments and sealants provided at the two pilot project schools, they also provided fluoride, x-rays, prophys, intra-oral photos, nutritional counseling and a dentist’s exam, all on site. In an effort to get children into care, high risk patients were given a provider results form, contacted by phone and sent a follow-up letter asking them to seek further care.

To prepare for the tele-dentistry pilot project, a VG school-based health center (SBHC) dental team completed two site visits to Capitol Dental in Salem, Oregon. Capitol Dental had already successfully launched the tele-dentistry model, so VG modeled their forms and processes after the work done there. “The key learning from the visit was fine-tuning how to work as a team”, said Lisa Bozetti, VG Dental Director. The team started using a text tree to help increase communication during an exam. The result? Better coordinated care. “With a text tree there is always a dentist available to help answer questions,” said Bozetti. “We can answer general questions, give quick advice and review in the moment. We became a tele-enabled team.”

Pleased with the outcome of the tele-dentistry pilot project, VG secured the staffing, equipment and supplies needed to carry it out. The pilot took place in two school districts and at two schools where strong partnerships existed. Since individual school and district buy-in is very important, the program targeted districts where the current level of involvement with the VG SBHC was already well established. As a result, the schools were supportive of a program that reduced the amount of time a student missed in the classroom and accommodated the requests to help get their students served.

Overall, the program was a success. The rate of consent form return from the pilot schools totaled 225. The high rate of return allowed VG to provide tele-dentistry care to 122 patients over the pilot period. The remaining students were served by the dental sealant program at additional school sites. Engaged teachers also played a big part in the program’s success. Most were truly dedicated to the whole student – and worked hard to ensure their students were seen.

The tele-dentistry pilot provided a critical foundation for VG. Its success will allow VG to look into potentially expanding this program and have it become an ongoing program in all VG school-based health centers. They also hope to make it available at the Women’s Clinic in Hillsboro, providing much needed dental care to expectant mothers during their regularly scheduled checkup.