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Back-to-School Dental Program Benefits Maine Students

October 29, 2014

A back-to-school dental program in Maine is ensuring that more at-risk children receive regular care.

Back to School Smiles, now in its fifth year, is a day-of-care event held in Ellsworth every September for children who do not have dental coverage and are not receiving regular dental care, according to Dr. Timothy Oh, who created the program and is president of the Maine Dental Association.

“The start of the school year is an ideal time to highlight good oral health,” Dr. Oh said. “We’ve seen a lot of kids with tooth decay and other dental problems, so we try to start out the school year by creating this big push to get them in the office.”

Nurses and teachers from area schools and daycare facilities such as Head Start identify children who need but can’t afford dental care. They refer the children to Dr. Oh’s clinic, Caring Hands of Maine, where the children are treated during a Saturday in September.

Caring Hands of Maine is a nonprofit clinic that provides accessible dental care to rural communities in eastern Maine. Dr. Oh and his team bring education, prevention and treatment to the community in an effort to create patterns of healthy behaviors and a lifelong interest in maintaining health.

“During Back to School Smiles, we’re really aiming our treatment at kids who don’t have Medicaid coverage or outside coverage for their healthcare needs,” he said.

Dr. Oh and a dozen volunteers treated about 40 children at this year’s Sept. 27 event. Some of the volunteers were senior dental students.

“We work with four different schools right now,” said Dr. Oh. “We’re trying to model good community stewardship.”
  
An additional benefit is that Back to School Smiles is held approximately six months after the local Give Kids A Smile event, which occurs in February.

“By spacing out the two events, we’re able to provide a continuity of care for children who normally wouldn’t visit a dentist’s office,” said Dr. Oh.

The American Dental Association (ADA) launched Give Kids A Smile nationally in 2003 as a way for dentists across the country to join together in providing care for underserved children.

At Give Kids A Smile events, dentists and other team members volunteer their time, and services, to provide screenings, treatments and education to children throughout the United States. Each year, approximately 350,000 children benefit from more than 1,500 events, all because of the efforts of 40,000 or more annual volunteers.

“This is our way of getting these children into the system. We recognize that we can’t do everything in a single day, but we can get them back in the office that same year for follow-up treatment.”

Dr. Oh said he hopes that other dentists might consider joining him so he can expand the program.

“The good will you generate is priceless,” he said. “The fact is that many of these kids do become regular patients, as well as their families.”