Healthy Smiles helps families connect to dentists


By Sue Cody

Justin Abbot - Healthy SmilesThe Healthy Smiles program is living up to its name in Clatsop County. The number of children in Clatsop County schools receiving sealants more than doubled from 2014 to 2018, thanks to education, dental insurance assistance and the Oregon Health Authority’s (OHA) School Dental Sealant Program.


According to Providence Healthy Smiles Coordinator Justin Abbott, the number of sealants administered at Clatsop County schools jumped from 244 in 2014 to 593 in the 2017-18 school year. Sealants can reduce tooth decay by 50 percent.


Providence Healthy Smiles is a five-year program funded by the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) and Providence Seaside Hospital to educate school children and their parents about the importance of dental care and how access to it.


Many people with insurance do not know how to access their dental coverage, says Abbott. Through Providence Healthy Smiles he helps families understand how to connect with their dental care organization (DCO) and find a dentist. If they do not have insurance, he helps them sign up.


Most medical insurance plans cover yearly dental checkups and cleanings.


Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization (CCO) serves Oregon Health Plan (OHP) members in Clatsop, Tillamook and Columbia counties. Those members have dental coverage with Advantage Dental, Capitol Dental, ODS or Willamette Dental. Benefits include yearly dental checkups, cleanings, fluoride treatments, fillings, extractions, X-rays, emergency care and certain other services, with limitations


The Way to Wellville and its sponsor, the Columbia Pacific CCO, encourage regular dental checkups and teeth cleaning as a key to good health.


Healthy Smiles in the schools


Kids are eligible for the school sealant program when they get their first molars in first and second grade, or their second molars in sixth or seventh grade. The schools send permission forms home with the kids, but many weren’t returning them. Abbott worked with the schools to call the parents and get verbal consent.


“My main goal is to raise the sealant form return rate,” says Abbott. This year 78 percent of the forms were returned, up from 45 percent the previous year. He goes the extra mile, too: “I help them know where to go to a dentist, track referrals and even call the state to hurry up the process if there is a kid in need.”


Abbott educates students at Knappa, Jewell, Astor Elementary, Astoria Middle School, Warrenton Grade School, Seaside Heights, Gearhart Elementary and Broadway Middle School.


A former teacher, Abbott says he understands kids, making Healthy Smiles a good fit for him. He uses fun visual aids to show basic dental care. Kids wield giant toothbrushes on puppets; they floss between building blocks and wipe sugar “bugs” off pictures of teeth. Nutrition is also part of the program.


For the older kids, Abbott stresses prevention by not smoking or using tobacco, in addition to reinforcing brushing and flossing.


Abbott says most of the students he sees who have dental needs already have OHP and don’t know how to access their dental benefits, or, they qualify for OHP and aren’t signed up. This year, he handled 120 cases of children who needed dental care or help navigating the system, only one of whom couldn’t get insurance. For that patient, a local dentist offered treatment.


He also has a good relationship with school health officials. “School nurses love the program,” Abbot said. Nurses are stretched to cover many schools, “but now they have my number.”


The current Healthy Smiles program has enough funds to run through 2020, Abbott says. Providence has said it will continue the program after that.


For dental assistance, contact Justin Abbott at 971-601-0479 or email