Catching up with our community: how Tooth BUDDS is adapting to COVID-19

We are proud to showcase the inspiring stories of organizations who are helping improve the oral health of their communities – which we know is essential to overall health. We featured Tooth BUDDS (Bringing Understanding of Dental Disease to Schools) in Delta Dental's 2019 Community Impact Report and recently caught up with them about their latest oral health programming and how they are adapting to COVID-19. In Arizona, the closest dentist in some counties is over 90 miles away. Tooth BUDDS is a nonprofit supported by Delta Dental of Arizona that aims to address this issue by delivering teledentistry and school clinic services to underserved rural areas in southeastern Arizona. In addition to providing remote virtual access, Tooth BUDDS sends affiliated practice dental hygienists to these dental deserts to provide screenings, fluoride varnish, sealants, and silver diamine fluoride (SDF). Using the latest innovations in dental therapeutics, the organization aims to ensure that no child turns to drugs because of dental pain. Tooth BUDDS has expanded their services to help nearly 550 children per year, using new technologies to bring oral health care where it is needed most.


1) How has COVID-19 affected Tooth BUDDS and the broader community?

COVID-19 has greatly affected Tooth BUDDS because schools were shut down in March and our program is primarily a school-based dental hygiene program. Even our equipment was locked up in the school where we were providing services because the decision to close the schools was so immediate. Looking ahead, we are uncertain about when we will be able to go back into schools because of safety concerns. We are weighing our options, including creating a scenario where children would be treated in a mobile van rather than in a classroom to mitigate these concerns.

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2) What changes has Tooth BUDDS made to address the challenges of delivering care during COVID-19?

Tooth BUDDS has recently purchased filters through DNTLWorks that will capture what is put into the air during preventive dental procedures. These devices attach to our mobile equipment and will assure that bacteria is not spread during the procedures. We are also considering purchasing a mobile dental van equipped with two dental chairs so children could have their dental work done off-campus, rather than in an unused classroom, which is where we usually set up. This would assure that the air recirculated through the classrooms would be safer.


3) What does good oral health mean to you?

To me, good oral health means freedom; freedom from pain, freedom from bullying, freedom from insecurity and low self-esteem. These three factors reflect the issues we see children going through in schools when they suffer from poor oral health.


4) What do you find most meaningful about working to provide better oral care?

Every time I place silver diamine fluoride on active decay on a child who has never been, nor is likely to go, to the dentist during their adolescence, I feel that I have impacted that child's life for the better. As mentioned, it is well documented in our community that children have turned to drugs because of a toothache. If I can stop one child from suffering from dental pain, keep one child from turning to drugs because of that pain, my work is complete.


To read more about the impactful community programs that Delta Dental is proud to support, check out our 2019 Community Impact Report.