Volunteers Save Smiles One Tooth at a Time

May 17, 2011

Three years ago, Winchester dentist Rankin Skinner was reading The New York Times when he came across an article that hit particularly close to home. According to the article, children in Kentucky suffered from more tooth decay than any other state in the country.

The same day, a friend of Skinner’s, who also happened to be a member of the Clark County Community Foundation, saw the article. He called Skinner, and the two decided that something needed to be done locally to help combat the problem.

Skinner had recently completed a study on tooth decay in Ecuador, and the participating dentists had seen great improvement in oral health using a material new to the market at that time called amorphous calcium phosphate, a flouride varnish.

“We knew this material worked, although it was a new material, and there wasn’t a lot of research on it at the time,” Skinner said.

Dentists and the Community Foundation worked together to create a plan to get the varnish to children in Clark County. Twice a year, the dentists go to all Clark County elementary schools and the pre-school to apply the varnish.

“We wanted to get the material on there as soon as the teeth came in. There’s just too much decay out there to be fixed. We knew we needed a preventative program,” Skinner said.

The second varnish treatment of the 2010-2011 school year was completed on Friday, and Skinner said that the dentists were pleased with how well the program is working. To track progress from year-to-year, the dentists conduct full dental exams on the sixth grade students, charting any untreated decay. If a cavity is discovered, parents are notified that their child needs dental treatment. So far, the dentists are continuing to see drops in the number of untreated cavities.

Each child also receives a new toothbrush at the beginning of each school year, Skinner said, so that they will have the tools necessary for good dental hygiene.

“I was a firm believer after using the flouride varnish,” Skinner said.

After the first year of the program, dentists saw an 11 percent drop in decay among sixth grade students. The first year of the program, dentists found untreated decay in approximately 50 percent of the students.

“It requires a huge amount of effort. It means just about every dentist in Winchester has to shut down their offices and bring out their equipment,” Skinner said.

A dozen Clark County dentists volunteer for the program and two from neighboring counties.

“I can’t say enough about these dentists,” Skinner said.