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Tribal Health’s pediatric dentistry celebrates strides in dental health

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POLSON — The pediatric dental program at Tribal Health clinics in both Polson and St. Ignatius have reported new achievements in local kids’ dental health thanks to renewed efforts spearheaded by their newest pediatric dentist Dr. David Burke. 

“From the first day on, Dr. Burke wanted to change our approach of treatment from restorative 

dentistry to preventative dentistry,” wrote Cyndee Marengo with Tribal Health. “The results have been amazing.”  

“When I first came two years ago, they’d been a little over a year without a pediatric dentist assigned specifically to tribal healthcare,” Burke explained. “They had previously had a No Cavity Club and we kept it going, but those first few months there were probably five or six kids that had no cavities through a whole month of exams.”

The clinic’s No Cavity Club originally started 10 years ago when the clinic partnered with Gary and Becky Dupuis of the Showboat Cinema. Kids found to have no cavities during their examination would have their picture taken and put on a bulletin board, and at the end of each month one photo would be drawn from a hat and that kid would receive a free ticket to a movie at the Showboat. 

With the preventive dentistry measures taken by Tribal Health now, the program has grown exponentially. 

Children seen at the clinic now undergo a Caries Risk Assessment – an assessment to determine the risk each kid has of getting cavities. Those results determine how often a kid is scheduled to be seen at the clinic, rather than a blanket once or twice per year. 

“We’re having kids come more frequently that’re at high risk and then we’re able to really go over how to brush and the oral health education part of it, and then they’re also getting topical fluoride a little more frequently, which really helps with the prevention of cavities,” Burke commented. “Our big advice is they have to brush two times every day. Once in the morning, once before bedtime. It’s the bare minimum. For me, in the morning it doesn’t matter if it’s before breakfast or after breakfast, as long as they do it. For bedtime, it has to be after the last meal or anything to drink except for water before bed.” 

As more and more kids come into their appointments cavity free – now 60 to 75 kids per month – Tribal Health has wanted to increase the incentives for kids to keep up those good oral health habits.

“The Tribal Council is really happy with our program, and they said they wanted to support with providing movie tickets to every kid who comes in for an exam without cavities,” Burke shared. “It’s a good way for us to partner with Showboat and support their business, but also give an incentive and a prize to every kid that comes in with no cavities.” Additionally, the Dupuis, who Burke said have provided big support to the Tribal Health dental clinic for years, have agreed to increase the reward for each kid in the No Cavity Club as well by throwing in a free bag of popcorn. 

“Keeping baby teeth healthy is extremely important. Some people used to say they’re just baby teeth, they’re going to fall out, why do we need to take care of them? … If you have baby teeth, the teeth come in in stages, so you have a long period of time where you have a combination of adult teeth with baby teeth. So, if you have lots of decay on the baby teeth, that bacteria is going to transfer onto the permanent teeth as well. It’s really important to establish health and then maintain a healthy mouth all the way through childhood,” Burke explained. 

Many parents don’t know how early to start bringing their kids into the dentist, but Burke shared that the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests between the ages of six months to one year, as soon as the first baby teeth begin to bud through the gums. “We want to get topical fluoride on those teeth as soon as they’re in the mouth, start getting the kid comfortable with coming to the dentist so they’re first experience isn’t scary or painful, or a combination of the two,” Burke stated.

With the growing knowledge of pediatric dentistry and the preventive measures being taken locally to improve kids’ oral health, Burke shared he hopes they’ll be able to create a culture where oral health is both optimized and seen as important. 

“We just want to thank Showboat – Gary and Becky – just for their support, and the Tribal Council too,” Burke commented. “I feel like this is a big step, and if we’re able to continue it growing then I think it’s going to have long term benefits for the kids all the way up to adulthood.”


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