Oral Health Coalition explores ways to improve local health

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BENNINGTON >> The Bennington Oral Health Coalition has begun seeking alternative methods to improving the collective oral health of Bennington, after efforts to fluoridate the town's water supply were shot down by voters.

To that end, the group hosted a community advisory meeting at the Bennington Fire Department on Wednesday evening from 6 to about 8 p.m. At the request of BOHC member Charlie Gingo, Bennington College professor and director of the college's Center for the Advancement of Public Action Susan Sgorbati acted as the moderator of the event. In total, about 30 people took part.

"One of the things we all agree on is that we want to improve the oral health of the children and adults in Bennington," said Sgorbati during her introduction, "We all have different ideas about how we can do that, but we're all passionate about it, that's why we're here." Sgorbati said that she agreed to moderate the event because she feels that its an important issue for the community to discuss, and she was interested in finding a way to get involved.

Sgorbati began by dividing the group into four smaller groups, in order to allow for individuals to have more of a voice. Each group was tasked with brainstorming ways to improve the oral health of each of the following populations: children from birth to 3, children from 4-12, teenagers from 13-20, young adults from 21-35, adults from 36-60, and seniors 61 and older. For each of these age brackets, sheets of paper were set up around the room. Each group assigned a recorder to go write down their ideas under the appropriate heading.

After about an hour of brainstorming, Sgorbati walked around to each board and read out all of the ideas, asking groups to explain them further if they were unclear. Participants were then asked to choose their two favorite ideas in each category. At this point, Dr. Alex Tenetes, who had been a member of the Bennington Citizens Against Fluoridated Water, said that choosing two of each was too few, and that all of the ideas should be considered, in order to find the best overall solution. Sgorbati assured him that no ideas were being thrown out, and that the coalition just wanted an idea of which ideas had support.

Some of the most popular ideas included, for children, a campaign against sugary drinks and snacks, a time in school for teeth brushing, using social media to educate about proper oral health, and continued anti-smoking education, and, for adults, the creation of a sliding-fee dental clinic, advocating for the inclusion of dental services in medicare, and combining dental education with other services (such as the food pantry). One common thread across all age brackets was how much the group valued increased education.

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Also in attendance was Mary Lou Albert, who was one of the founders of the Bennington Citizens Against Fluoridated Water, who had been invited personally by Gingo. Albert had a list, compiled by the BCAFW, of solutions proposed by the 2001 committee that considered Bennington's oral health problem. She compared that list to the list of potential solutions created by Wednesday's discussion, and found many, including increased education, opening a dental clinic, giving away toothbrushes and toothpaste, and brining dental hygienists into Bennington for internships, had been discussed back then as well. "Nobody in this town wants to see people hurt," she said.

Career Development Center teacher Bruce Lee-Clark said that the CDC and Mount Anthony Union High School had made significant progress on one of the 2001 goals, removing soda machines from the schools. He said that not just soda, but sugary sports drinks as well, are currently not sold in school vending machines or in the school store.

After more discussion, Gingo told everyone in attendance that he would be emailing a compiled list of all of the ideas with their vote totals to everyone who signed in, and encouraged everyone who was interested to volunteer for work groups to held make some of the ideas reality. "It can't just be the Bennington Oral Health Coalition," he said, "we've got to see who else we can engage, and I'm hoping that's some of you here tonight."

Former select board chair Greg Van Houten also talked about the importance of creating partnerships between dental practices, the hospital, schools, and other community organizations, if any of these changes are to be implemented.

Sgorbati urged everyone not to let the chance to improve Bennington's oral health slip away, saying, "There seems to be some interest, and real momentum here."

To get in contact with the BOHC, you can call (802) 447-3700 or email info@benningtonoralhealth.com. You can also follow them on Facebook.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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