One of the most common chronic illnesses among today’s children is dental disease, and as a result more than 51 million hours of school time is lost in the United States every year.
Kristen Anderson, Redwood Area School District nurse, is seeing it locally, as students often have to leave school during the day to get in for dental care.
According to Anderson, many students are on medical assistance for dental care, and that often means having to travel longer distances to see a dentist even more time is needed meaning a student could miss half a day of school or more just to visit the dentist.
Seeing the need, Anderson started asking questions and researching solutions. In speaking with other school nurses she came across a program known as Children’s Dental Services and began looking into it.
Established in 1919, Children’s Dental Services is based in Minneapolis and is a non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the oral health of children, especially those from low-income families and in those areas where access to care can be an issue.
Determining the program had the potential to help local students, Anderson presented the idea of having Children’s Dental Services work with the local school district to the Redwood Area Board of Education and was given the green light to move forward.
Earlier this week, Heather Dale, a dental hygienist with Children’s Dental Services visited Redwood Falls and saw more than 50 students in three days at Reede Gray and RVMS/HS.
Each student who came for a visit had radiographs taken of their teeth, and then Dale did a cleaning of their teeth. Adding up the brief time students waited for their turn and the time for the radiographs and the cleaning each student was out of class less than 20 minutes.
Dale said as she worked with the students there was a range from those who she can tell regularly visit the dentist to those who have never even been in a dental office.
“More than anything we want to provide access to dental care for children,” said Dale adding Children’s Dental Services is committed to providing that access.
In fact the Children’s Dental Services outreach program is sending its staff members to communities all across Minnesota.
Anderson said at the beginning of the school year a letter was sent to every family along with other back to school information.
A signed form of consent returned to the school allowed a child to be seen by Dale this week. Anderson said whether a child has their own private dental insurance or is on medical assistance they can be seen.
“No child will ever be denied because they can’t pay,” said Dale.
While the 50-plus students who saw Dale this week is a good start, Anderson knows there are a lot more students who could benefit from this service.
Dale said with the initial check-up and photos she will go back to have others look through the information to determine if added services are needed. With consent, that work can be done on an additional visit to the school.
Anderson is confident now that the first visit has been held there will be additional students who will be seen in the future.
“Once word of mouth spreads about how easy it is, I think more children will come,” said Anderson.
As more students sign up additional visits will be made.
Anderson said working with Children’s Dental Services has been a positive experience for her. The visits were conducted in the nurse’s office, which means the work was able to be done in a small working space.
“I have worked in gymnasiums and storage closets,” said Dale, adding the equipment really does not take up that much room.
Anderson added she is excited about the potential a program like this can have on the school district, as it provides dental care for students who might not have received it any other way.
It is all done in a setting that won’t take them away from the classroom for an extended period of time.
Anderson said volunteers helped with the process, as they were able to get the students from their classes when it was their turn and interacted with them while they waited.
“They have been a huge help for us,” said Anderson.
Dale added the community also demonstrated its support, as the Redwood Lodge offered a reduced rate for her to stay in Redwood Falls.
To find out how to get a child involved in this program through the local school district, call the school at (507) 644-3531 or visit the school’s Web site at www.redwoodareaschools.com. Look for the site for the school nurse.
Dale said the services they offer are not limited to one school. So if there are other children in the area who need to see a dentist and are having difficulties they should contact Children’s Dental Services.
Find out more about the organization on its Web site at childrensdentalservices.org.