Oral health coalition partnering with interfaith group

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BENNINGTON — Not too long ago, studies showed that Bennington had the worst dental decay in the entire state, reported by the Vermont Department of Health.

To educate on the community on this topic the Bennington Oral Health Coalition (BOHC) sprouted out of dental subcommittee for a poverty workgroup in 2012. It's primary focus since inception involves working local classrooms to maintain oral hygiene of the youth.

In November BOHC and Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services (GBICS) voted to come together under one entity.

"I think we have the potential to work more closely with the coalition," said Sue Andrews, executive director of GBICS. "We're working on improving and the idea that we can do it collaboratively. You take something like oral health or obesity and the best approach is one where you target it from multiple sectors in multiple ways and you coordinate the efforts -- in public health that's the standard of excellence. Work with partners to do the cross sector collaboration that so important to figuring things out. People respond best when they're hearing the same message from multiple partners and sectors."

GBICS has served those in need since the 1970s including the Food & Fuel Fund, the Bennington Free Clinic in 2008 in the First Baptist Church, the Ladies First program, the Kitchen Cupboard that was opened in 2011 and the latest FoodFit classes.

The partnership is also a part of a grant that was awarded to GBICS from the Vermont Community Foundation related to oral health.

The Oral Health Coalition was not an established 501(c)3 nonprofit and could not write or receive grants. It was sustained by 16 volunteers consisted of dentists, nurses, physicians, dental hygienists and other community members to run educational presentations and various community events, according to the coalition coordinator, Rory Price.

"I think there was recognition that it's not just about writing grants, but having a more solid organizational home where it would have administrative support, supervisory support, grant writing capabilities, other financial resources," said Charlie Gingo, chairman of the GBICS board of trustees. "It could also access, the GBICS board for example, some funding for the Oral Health Coalition to help it do its work."

Gingo said some folks on the GBICS board were also members of the coalition.

The coalition's mission won't change under this partnership. Members will continue to work in schools, with Head Start programs and fluoride advocates. In its monthly newsletter, ongoing projects include a daily tooth brushing program at Bennington Elementary School and Pownal Elementary School, supplying the elementary schools and Mount Anthony Union Middle School with tooth tutors, reinstating the dental chair at the middle school and much more.

For 2017, the coalition hopes to include oral health information in the Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union curriculum, include screening options for high school students and expand the brushing program.

"While the merger may not greatly change the ways in which the BOHC engages with the public, the Coalition is having, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the community," Price said. "From the establishment of daily tooth brushing programs and educational presentations in elementary schools, to assisting with the establishment of the Tooth Tutor program in the Middle School, to campaigning for community water fluoridation, the BOHC has much to be proud of (and a lot of work still to do!)"

The coalition maintains open communication with town's Oral Health Commission.

"The Oral Health Coalition does meet our mission of helping to provide for unmet basic needs in this area," Gingo said. "The coalition itself, upon warning, we were willing to have them come on as a program. They keep their advisory committee and have the same focus, [just now with] organizational support or a bigger and more solid organization."

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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