Next Reconnecting McDowell project to focus on student teeth

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A pilot program focused on student teeth will launch next year in McDowell County.

As part of the larger Reconnecting McDowell project, students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten will have access to virtual dental hygiene exams at school and, if needed, follow-up care through mobile dental vans or regional dental providers.

Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, said dental-related illnesses are leading causes of school absences.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is make sure that every student in McDowell County has a dental checkup once a year so that you can make sure that they don’t have problems that will be problems later on, but also be real deterrents to focus on teaching and learning,” Weingarten said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The program will begin in the early grades for the 2015-2016 school year and then be expanded to grades 2, 7 and 12 during the following three school years.

“You really want to focus on prevention, in terms of pre-k and k, and then we all get our adult teeth some time between elementary and junior high school and so you want to make sure that you’re focusing that way too,” Weingarten said of the participating grades.

The dental care is just one effort from Reconnecting McDowell, a public-private partnership lead by AFT, designed to ensure McDowell County children and their families have access to high-quality education, healthcare, social services and improved economic development opportunities.

“You have to really focus on the schools, on instruction, but it’s more than schools. It has to be the social, economic net around the schools and it has to be economic development,” Weingarten said.

McDowell County was ranked the unhealthiest county in West Virginia in the 2015 County Health Rankings report, released earlier this week, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

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