Low-income children get free dental care at U

The procedures offered at the University were part of Give Kids a Smile Day.

by Naomi Scott

It had been approximately two years since Marissa Peterson, 16, an Eagan High School sophomore, had been to the dentist.

Still, as she sat with her parents waiting to be examined Saturday at the University’s School of Dentistry, Peterson said she was not too worried about the condition of her teeth.

“I’m a good flosser,” she said.

While Peterson came for routine X-rays and a cleaning, University dental students and faculty members also applied sealants, extracted teeth and performed root canals for approximately 130 low-income children, free of charge.

The procedures were part of Give Kids a Smile Day, an outreach program designed to raise awareness about the needs of children unable to acquire adequate dental care. This is the first year the Dentistry School has participated in the nationwide dental access day.

Tom Beckman, a clinical faculty member in pediatric dentistry, said access to dental care can be problematic for families because of apathetic parents, lack of money and large distances between patients and providers.

Carly Grothe, a third-year dental student, said she recognizes that access to dental care is “a really big problem.”

After hearing about the Give Kids A Smile program elsewhere, Grothe said, she recommended to Patrick Lloyd, the Dentistry School dean, that University dental students get involved.

“We wanted to be able to utilize the skills we have to treat kids with dental needs,” Grothe said.

Tracey Schilling-Hysjulien, a professor in the restorative science department, said those providing care found many cases of rampant tooth decay.

“We’ve seen 9- and 10-year-olds who need multiple root canals,” she said.

She also said two cases of baby bottle tooth decay were evident in children at the event.

Baby bottle tooth decay occurs when parents send a young child to bed with milk or any sugar-containing beverage. The sugar sits on the child’s teeth all night, resulting in massive decay between developing baby teeth.

Schilling-Hysjulien said baby teeth keep space for incoming permanent teeth. If those baby teeth have to be extracted because of the decay, the jaw cannot develop properly and crowding of permanent teeth occurs.

She said the condition can affect any family that does not know about the disease’s risks.

She said providers addressed the situation in a family whose 5-year-old boy had baby bottle tooth decay. The boy’s family, which was also sending its youngest child to bed with a bottle, heard about the risks of the disease for the first time Saturday.

All care at the event was free. If caregivers determined that further treatment was needed, they referred parents to the Dentistry School’s Pediatric Dentistry Clinic, which offers yearlong reduced-rate care.

In addition to treating the children, faculty members said they hoped the 140 dental students who volunteered their time gained something for themselves out of the day.

“I think there’s a certain chemistry to this day, because it is strictly volunteers,” Beckman said. “The students have really risen to it – wanting to do it.”

Lloyd said it is “critically important” for Dentistry School students to have such experience.

“It instills in them the notion of contributing to community outreach,” he said.

As Lloyd looked out across the Pediatric Dentistry Clinic on Saturday, where all 30 chairs were filled with children as students hovered over them, he said, “I’ve never seen it this busy.”

Parents of the children also said they were impressed with how the day went.

“This is so awesome – look at the need,” said Peterson’s mother, Linda Peterson, a teacher from Eagan, Minn.

“Us parents just don’t know about the opportunities,” she said.

Linda Peterson said she would recommend the clinic to anybody.