LHU Clearfield Students, Faculty Improve Dental Health in Rural Jamaica

LHU Clearfield 2018 physician assistant graduate, Mariah Shimmel, along with other LHU students, apply fluoride varnish to children’s teeth in Harmons, Jamaica, as part of an international service-learning program. (Provided photo)

Since January of 2015, Lock Haven University students and faculty have participated in an international service-learning program to Harmons, Jamaica, in partnership with Won By One to Jamaica.

In keeping with the mission of LHU to provide real-world experiences for its students, LHU Clearfield faculty Jennifer Bell, physician assistant program, and Amy Way, health science, have offered this program to serve this small, rural village.

Dental care is virtually nonexistent in Harmons, and those who seek out a dentist usually do so to have a tooth pulled.  Research also suggests that pneumonia, complications associated with pregnancy and some forms of cardiovascular disease may be linked to poor oral health.

By bringing a toothbrush for each of the 450 children who attend school in the Harmons community and applying fluoride varnish to each child each year, LHU students are helping to provide these children with a brighter future for their dental hygiene.

And by educating them about proper teeth brushing and the effects that food choice can have on their teeth, they are giving them the tools to continue good dental health practices.

With its emphasis on the care of underserved populations, LHU physician assistant students regularly participate in this program. This year five Clearfield students traveled to Jamaica to serve the people of Harmons, including Ashley Gochenauer, Olivia Gross, Paulina Paw, Christy Pflanzer, Hailey Sinclair and Amara White-Vega.

Fluoride varnish was applied to the teeth of every child in the community between the ages of 2-12, with parental permission.

Each year the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (PA AAP) provides 150-200 varnish kits for the project and the remaining 300 that are needed are obtained by donations from area dentists.

The physician assistant students receive training on how to apply the varnish through the “Healthy Teeth Health Children” continuing medical education program offered by the PA AAP.

The Clearfield Campus Activities Board, one of the student organizations on campus, organized a toothbrush drive and hundreds of toothbrushes were donated and handed out to the children.

Bell and Way welcome the opportunity to partner with area dentists to offer more resources to this village. “We know that we are providing toothbrushes to each child, but behind that child are parents, grandparents and likely siblings that we don’t see who are in need,” Way said.

“We rely on donations to provide us with enough varnish for each student. We would never want to have to turn a child away, so it’s important that we secure enough donations each year to meet the need.”

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