Traveling dentists brighten Kent kids’ smiles

Kate Bigam

Parents of Kent schoolchildren can cross one appointment off their to-do lists this week – the kids’ dentist appointments.

Licensed dentists and dental hygienists from the local branch of Mobile Dentists, a Michigan-based non-profit organization, are visiting Stanton Middle School and all five Kent elementary schools this week, offering preventative dental care to students.

Warren Harrison, Mobile Dentists’ chief operating officer, said Mobile Dentists was formed to respond to needs of under-privileged children who have limited access to dental care. The organization sends dental care professionals into schools to provide teeth cleanings, inspections, fluoride treatments and sealant work.

“The reality is that middle- and upper-class families usually have private dentists,” Harrison said.

For working parents, he added, Mobile Dentists provides a unique opportunity for their children to receive medical attention without them present.

Mobile Dentists offers dental consultations to all students, regardless of their ability to pay for the service, and offers grant assistance to families in need. The organization also accepts Medicaid, which Harrison said is rare – most private practices turn Medicaid patients away.

“By efficiently taking the dentists to the schools, we are able to capture all these children effectively and efficiently,” he said.

Mobile Dentists does not provide fillings or other restorative dental work, but it sends a “report card” home to each child’s parents, detailing what restorative work might be necessary. However, Harrison said the sealant the Mobile Dentists provides coat the children’s molars and make erosion nearly impossible.

“If we can keep those in place over a number of years, the children will not suffer any meaningful decay,” he said.

Happy Bengston, principal of Longcoy Elementary School, said the program has been well-received, especially by working parents.

“Parents are pleased because of the convenience,” she said. “They do want their children to have good dental care, so this is a combination of a good business/school/home partnership.”

The organization has provided dental services to Kent City Schools for nearly three years, and although trips to the dentist often have a stigma of fear attached to them, elementary school nurse Vicki Nichols said children seem to enjoy Mobile Dentists’ visits.

“If they’re a little hesitant, we encourage them to just watch,” Nichols said. “What happens is sometimes the dentists will have them come over and stand by them so they can see how it’s all done.”

But Cathy Smerek, school nurse at Stanton Middle School, said the program has gotten a less positive response from older children – of more than 800 students who attend Stanton, only 15 will participate in Thursday’s Mobile Dentists visit.

“It’s pretty typical for middle schoolers because they don’t feel it’s cool to do it at school at this age group,” Smerek said. “I don’t know if we’re going to do it next year at the middle school level because it’s a lot of work and effort to get 15.”

Mobile Dentists, which has also served the Akron City School District, currently services nine states, including Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Contact public affairs reporter Kate Bigam at [email protected].