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Rowan County Health Department receives $5,000 grant to fund prenatal oral health program

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Health Department was one of several health organizations across the state that recently received a grant from the Delta Dental Foundation.

The Delta Dental Foundation, the philanthropic branch of Delta Dental of North Carolina, dispensed $85,000 through its Smiles for Kids program for oral health initiatives serving communities throughout the state. Since Delta Dental started its Smiles for Kids grant program 10 years ago, the organization has distributed more than $510,000.

Delta Dental held a virtual event on April 23 to award funding this year. During the ceremony, Rowan County Health Department was announced as the recipient of a $5,000 grant from the program. That money will be used to provide free dental care and education to low income, at-risk pregnant women through the county’s Smile Center.

They’re able to get treatment that includes things like full-mouth x-rays, restorative care and things like that that will improve their health, and in some cases, that impacts the health of the fetus,” said Vera Avery, the grant’s administrator and a quality improvement specialist with the Health Department. “A lot of times infections can grow in the mouth and impact development of the fetus, so we’re trying to make sure we can intervene to stop that.”

Located at the Health Department at 1811 E. Innes St., the Smile Center is a dental clinic that provides quality dental care to children while also helping families take steps to prevent their children from suffering future dental problems. The center is staffed by a full-time dentist, a registered dental hygienist, two dental assistants and an office registrar. 

The Smile Center typically only provides care to children up through the age of 20. However, Avery said the center began offering prenatal dental services to uninsured or underinsured pregnant women several years ago. 

Interim Health Director Alyssa Harris said there is a direct connection between maternal oral health and low birth weight, as well as other negative health impacts on the newborn baby. Rowan County, she said, experiences a higher rate of infant mortality and higher percentage of low birthweight babies than the surrounding counties.

“This program works to address birth weight by providing proactive treatments for expectant mothers, many of whom are uninsured and would not otherwise receive this care,” Harris said.

Rowan County has received grants from Delta Dental for the prenatal program for the past several years, Avery said. The Smile Center typically is able to serve 10-12 expectant mothers per year using the funding. The center follows up with mothers and their newborn children after the baby is born. The prenatal program, Avery said, establishes a strong foundation for a child’s oral healthcare for years to come.

Due to complications brought on by the pandemic, Rowan County applied for the funding later than usual this year. That wasn’t a problem, Avery said, because Delta Dental was cooperative and extended the deadline for the county.

“What a great partner Delta Dental has been in recognizing the need for funding these types of programs and being very accommodating to different situations that have come up,” Avery said. “No one could have predicted the pandemic and the way it would impact our way to deliver services, but they have put clients first and customers first and have worked with us to make sure we can provide services to people here in Rowan County.”

More information about the Smile Center and the county’s prenatal oral health program can be found online at www.rowancountync.gov/325/Smile-Center.

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