FAIRFIELD — If parents ask their children what they did in school this week at Lawrence junior and senior high schools, the response might be, “Got my teeth cleaned.”

Stormy Colbath, public health dental hygienist with Smiles For Life, based in Dexter, is in the midst of a six-day spring dental clinic at the two schools.

About 200 children will receive basic dental care by the time the clinic ends April 9 at Fairfield Primary School, Colbath said.

In addition to cleaning and fluoride varnishes, Colbath makes X-rays, provides temporary fillings, applies sealants and teaches children about oral hygiene.

“You’re reaching kids that you might not reach otherwise,” Colbath said. “You’re making a difference.”

A difference that could save a life. Colbath said a tooth abscess can kill a child.

If it weren’t for the annual fall and spring school clinics, Colbath said a number of these children might not receive any dental care at all.

One contributing factor is a relative shortage of dentists.

In 2007, there were six dentists per 10,000 people in the United States, while in Maine, there were five, according the report Oral Health in Maine by the Center for Health Workforce Studies.

Cost can be prohibitive as well. In an office, teeth cleanings range from $35-$85 and fillings can total $75-$250, according to dentist.org. Porcelain crowns cost $900-$1,500, root canals $600-$900, and tooth extractions $200-$500, according to the same site.

To be eligible for the program, which keeps information about the students confidential, the children must be covered by MaineCare.

Or, they can be children without dental insurance whose parents are willing to pay a reduced rate for the services. For instance, a cleaning and fluoride varnish provided by Colbath costs $42 for children 12 and younger and $52 for children 13 and older.

“I definitely understand the plight of families in this area,” Cara Armstrong, nurse at Fairfield Primary and Albion Elementary schools and part-time nurse at Lawrence junior and senior high schools, said. “It’s very rural and there are a lot of young, working families.”

Dental care is basic health care, Armstrong said. “I think people often don’t realize that dental care is so important,” she said. Inadequate care “can lead to a whole host of other illnesses.”

School is a logical place to provide dental care, she said, adding that kids with healthy mouths have better attendance.

“One of the primary reasons students miss school is due to mouth issues,” Armstrong said, whether that be due to toothaches, loose teeth, cavities and abscesses.

Colbath agreed that schools are natural settings in which to provide dental care and education.

“They are happy (after treatment), especially the little ones,” Colbath said. “It’s a familiar environment; all their friends are there and they wait their turn.”

Colbath said she strives to make children feel comfortable and safe, especially those who have a fear of going to the dentist.

“Some come in with their hands in their mouth because they are so scared,” she said. “Eventually they hop up in the chair. I think one of the most rewarding things is to have kids get over their fear. It can be fun and we can make a big difference.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]


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