Since she was a child, Dr. Amanda Fitzpatrick dreamed of working in medicine and working with kids.
And after shadowing her dentist her junior year of high school, she made it her goal to go into dentistry, where today she today is a co-chair of her local Mission of Mercy program and a leader of dentistry in Macon County and for the American Dental Association.
Dr. Fitzpatrick was fortunate to come out of dental school and work in the same practice with her childhood dentist and mentor for eight years.
“It was awesome for me, a really nice experience for me to see someone who loves the profession so much that he had kinda retired and was down to a couple days a week for the last ten years or more, but still a couple days a week in practice,” she said. “To work with him as a 1-on-1, as a doctor, was awesome for me.”
Aside from working in private practice, she works with the county health department to conduct annual school screenings and fluoride treatments for kids in eight area schools.
“I go in and look at them with a mirror and my loupe on to see if there’s anything that can be seen, and then someone from Northeast Health Council will come in and fluoride, varnish and they’ll actually come back in January and do fluoride and varnish again,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said.
By doing this, she can identify children who need treatment, whether it’s acute or regular care.
“If I don’t know (these kids) or if we don’t know them, the school nurses are going to know and are going to remember if they sent home a notice,” she said. “I feel like we had an access of care issue but we have a couple qualified health centers that have taken care of a lot of kids who have Medicaid so now we’re seeing a lot less untreated decay in the schools we’re going to.”
Her passion for pediatrics led to the school-based program — a practical solution to an access-to-care problem — but in doing so, she’s also hoping to shift rural attitudes toward dental care.
Even that is an access-to-care issue — the dental society that covers northeast Missouri has a few more than 50 members, which is a large piece of geography for so few dentists. What’s more, dentists are retiring and there’s a question of whether there will be dentists to come in and take over those practices.
“There used to be four dental offices in Macon (County),” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “One retired and literally locked the door and walked away … we are trying to get new doctors or doctors who’ve been practicing elsewhere to come to more rural areas to practice so (patients) don’t have 30, 40, 50 minutes to an hour for care.”
In combating cavalier attitude toward pediatric dental health, Dr. Fitzpatrick tries to teach good hygiene through daily practice and her work at the schools. Her work is focused on changing attitudes.
“There’s a lot of thought of well, it’s just baby teeth, they’re going to lose them anyway. But maybe it’s a 5-year-old who won’t lose them for seven years. You can’t let decay go for seven years without having pretty significant issues,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “So knowing that they’ll have to keep the teeth that long, parents don’t get that. They didn’t know that. It’s like a lightbulb goes off and they’re like, yeah, OK.”
From there, she tries to teach about the role food and drink have on bacteria and decay and how brushing and flossing can prevent that, or even how a different diet can lower the risk of decay. The goal is to be forward, but gentle.
“We’re trying to educate in a way where you don’t step on toes. You don’t want to speak down to people who are patients, but still letting them know what they’re doing is causing their trouble. And we went to school for them to learn all this,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “It’s our job to not just shove it down someone’s throat, but to communicate it effectively so they can be doing the work of taking care of these kids.”
Dr. Fitzpatrick is a recipient of the 2018 10 Under 10 award. Read more about the award at ADA.org/10under10.