February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, a month-long observance to bring awareness to the importance of oral health for children and adults.
When Janelle Jehn was a dental therapy student at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, her instructors strongly encouraged the class to serve pediatric patients in the community where the need was greatest – that’s how Jehn first landed at a Community Health Center.
Between her December 2013 graduation and when she gave the commencement speech at the ceremony in May, Jehn already had experienced a landmark moment as a dental care provider. At graduation she recalled a story from a few weeks prior:
A 6-year-old girl and her mother had travelled more than an hour to be seen at Jehn’s health center – a place the family knew would provide her dental care and accept her insurance. The patient had a complex medical history. She had been suffering from cancer, and her mother admitted that while her dental care was a priority it had fallen behind her other health concerns. The patient had an abscessed tooth with excessive decay. She was in pain, and unable to sleep or eat. Janelle, in collaboration with the dentist and the patient’s physician was able to give her patient some relief when she helped pull the tooth.
“It was such an amazing experience to have a patient who had struggled to receive access and care be so happy to have her tooth taken out,” Jehn said. “You could just tell that the family had been through so much, and that I was able to [help] was a complete affirmation of why I went to school in this profession, why I’m working in this environment – to really help the community.”
The little girl was so happy she drew Jehn a picture in thanks (see picture at right).
Jehn is now an Advanced Dental Therapist at Open Cities Health Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, and she says that one case from early in her career isn’t that different from the cases she and other providers like her see every day. Jehn treats primarily pediatric patients and routinely does dental extractions, crowns, fillings, periodic and limited exams – key treatments that many of her health center’s patients are looking for. It’s thrilling, but also full of pressure.
As she put it: “I know if I’m not the provider that’s able to help this patient today, they may not receive treatment elsewhere.”