By Harold C. Ford
A lot of kids don’t like going to the dentist. Not surprisingly, a 2013 report found that up to 20 percent of kids around the world experience dental fear and anxiety.
Further, researchers report that 35 percent of school absences are dental-related and that in any given year, four out of five low-income children do not see a dentist.
But thanks to a crew of mobile dentists from the national “Smile Program,” students in the Flint Community Schools (FCS) are finding out being in that dental chair is not so bad–while the district attempts to assure better overall health for its students and strives to reduce absences.
Three dental professionals from “Smile Programs…The Mobile Dentists,” Lucy Opris, DDS; Amanda Anthony, RDH; and Rebecca Bradley, RDH, came to Flint’s Potter Elementary, 2500 N. Averill Ave., Dec. 6 to provide dental services to students at no cost.
Services provided by Smile include: dental exams; cleaning; x-rays; fluoride treatments; sealants; oral health instruction; fillings; simple extractions; crowns; and pulpotomy (treatment of nerves inside baby teeth).
“It’s a school-based program,” said Lisa O’Connor, president of Publicom, Inc, a Lansing-based marketing and communications firm that represents Smile Programs. “Primarily it’s kindergarten through 6th grade.”
Avoidance or lack of access to dental care creates a domino effect of problems, experts say, including in the Flint Community Schools (FCS).
Data provided by MobileDentists.com show the following:
- 35 percent of student absences are dental related.
- Four of five low-income children do not see a dentist during the course of a year.
- One in seven children (5-12 years) are in dental pain right now.
- Over 51 million school hours are lost due to students’ untreated dental disease.
- Elementary students miss 2.1 days of school each year due to dental problems.
Students in need:
“There’s more kids that need the care,” said O’Connor. “(The main barrier) is parent awareness, trying to get to the parents to get them to understand the need…to get them to provide permission.” Parental permission is a requirement.
“We’ve seen (children with) every tooth with cavities,” said Anthony. “Sometimes the parents, because they’re baby teeth, don’t feel the need to get them fixed.”
The Smile staff frequently apply fluoride rinses to the teeth of their student clients whenever possible. “With the water crisis that Flint has (experienced),” said Anthony, “all the bottled water, filtered water…has (limited or) no fluoride in it.”
“Smile” has worked with FCS for 17 years since 2002, according to O’Connor. Over 1000 students were treated last school year at 11 FCS schools. Smile will begin to see middle school students, up to 8th grade, beginning in 2019.
The care is offered at no cost to schools, districts, and students with funding provided by Medicaid/MiChild. Other insurance and self-pay also is accepted.
“The beauty of it is we’re coming into the schools,” said O’Connor. “Parents don’t have to take time off work. They don’t have to worry about transportation issues.”
According to research, dental fear spurs avoidance behaviors by children “resulting in deterioration of their oral health…sleep disorders…and (may) have a negative impact on one’s psychosocial functioning.”
And the question of absences matters in the context of current challenges faced by the Flint district.
The FCS is in the second year of a three-year partnership imposed by the State of Michigan. The district must improve its test scores, reduce its suspension rate, and increase attendance to 90 percent.
In the 2017-18 school year, the percent of all students “chronically absent” (10 percent, or more, of school days) in Flint schools was 48 percent.
A labor of love:
“I love this job,” said Anthony, a dental hygienist who has been employed by Smile for 16 years. “I love working with the children. I love giving back to the community, serving the underserved.” Anthony’s husband attended Potter Elementary.
Opris shuns the more lucrative possibilities of a private practice for nonmonetary rewards. “I was in private practice before I came here and it wasn’t as fulfilling as this is,” she said. For her, it is about the “joy of working with children and helping the community.”
Next visit in May:
“Smile Programs…the mobile dentists” will next visit Potter Elementary in May. The visiting team of dental professionals is generally on site two to three days.
Parents can sign up their children online at www.MySchoolDentist.com. Interested persons can also call 888-833-8441 for more information.
According to its website, Smile Programs provide dental services to children in 19 states and the District of Columbia including some of the nation’s largest school districts in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
EVM Staff Writer Harold Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.