Prevention is the best medicine

Calean Wick waited patiently under his shades as dental hygienist Stacey Anderson applied a fluoride treatment. He didn't make a single complaint as she cleaned his teeth and applied sealants. He was very good. He opened his mouth wide, Anderson ...

Calean Wick waited patiently under his shades as dental hygienist Stacey Anderson applied a fluoride treatment.

He didn't make a single complaint as she cleaned his teeth and applied sealants.

He was very good. He opened his mouth wide, Anderson said.

Wick, a first grader at Great Lakes Elementary School, cannot remember the last time he's been to a dentist, but his teeth are now protected until he can get to one.

Anderson provided dental cleanings and preventative care for children at Wick's school Tuesday through Just Kids Dental Health program. The hygienist set up a mobile dentist office in a private tutoring room at the school and saw 20 students.


The program provides oral health education, cleaning, fluoride varnish and sealants to children with limited access to dental care, Anderson said.

Many of the children who come to the program have never been to the dentist, she said.

Wick visited Anderson during a reading lesson in his class.

"It didn't hurt that much," Wick said.

The student returned to class with his teeth feeling "good." It tickled when she used the brush, he said.

Wick has beautiful permanent teeth. Putting the sealants on to protect them from decay is very rewarding, Anderson said.

Wick missed 22 minutes of class but received years of dental protection for his teeth. That's important for a kid who doesn't remember his last dental appointment, she said.

Anderson started Just Kids Dental Health two years ago in Minnesota to provide preventative dental care to area children. She works with students in Duluth, Proctor and along the North Shore. She worked in private dental practices for several years before starting the program.


Often dentists are unable to accept many new patients who receive medical assistance because the reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid and BadgerCare are low. The need for accessible dental care for low-income children has been present in the community for a long time, she said.

Superior is the first school district she's worked with in Wisconsin -- where she is also a licensed hygienist.

"I grew up in this area and I know what need there is," she said. "It's a way of giving back to, you know, what I needed myself growing up."

The program costs the parents and school district nothing.

The only costs to the district is the time and effort it takes to gather consent forms from parents, said Nancy Smith, the district's director of health services.

The district sent consent forms home with 1,400 students in elementary and middle school.

Dental programs are needed throughout the country especially for children. Children who have cavities don't eat well because their teeth hurt, so they only eat soft foods. then they're in pain and not eating well they don't do well in school, she said.

Tooth decay a common problem for children in the United States. More than 28 percent of children ages 2-5 have decay in their baby teeth and 50 percent of 11 year olds have had cavities. By the time they reach 19, two-thirds of people have tooth decay in their permanent teeth. Low income children are twice as likely to suffer from tooth decay and fewer than 20 percent of Medicaid-covered children receive a yearly preventative checkup, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Untreated cavities can cause children pain, weight loss and missed school days, according to the Web site.


Just Kids mobile dental clinic is visiting each elementary school in the district and Superior Middle School this fall. Anderson's next visit to Superior is scheduled for Nov. 28 at Bryant Elementary School.

About 15 dental days are scheduled at the district's elementary and middle schools throughout the year. Many of the schools are hosting Anderson two days this fall because the response to the program has been so positive, Smith said. Anderson will return to Superior for follow up visits in spring.

Children served by school-based dental sealant programs like Just Kids have 60 percent fewer instances of decay for two to five years following their treatment. Sealant programs are operating in 29 states and serve 193,000 children, according to the CDC Web site.

As Wick left Anderson's temporary dental office he was given small prizes along with the traditional dental hygiene take homes -- toothbrush, floss and toothpaste.

Wick got to pick from stickers, bracelets and small toys. He left the office with a smile on his face.

He also left with a note for his parents explaining the care he received and advising a yearly dental checkup.

Anderson makes notes about teeth she'd suggest having a dentist look at if she sees a problem tooth, but she doesn't diagnose, she said.

The point of the program is to give kids the preventative care they need. Most of the kids haven't ever been to the dentist and some of them are scared. A few cry, but the bribes help, Anderson said.


"They get an extra prize when they open wide," she said. "I think one of our biggest goals is to get rid of any fears of dentistry."

The program only accepts students on medical assistance. Anderson is working to get funding to expand the program to include students who aren't in a medical assistance program, but don't have dental insurance.

Parents are welcome to accompany their children to the dental visits but their presence is not necessary. Any parent wishing for their children to receive the preventative care must fill out a consent form. For more information about the program contact a school nurse.

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail .

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