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Mississippi Dentist Provides Care for Area Head Start Students

October 9, 2015

Dental hygienist Bethany Bankston talks to a Head Start student. 

A Mississippi dentist has spent the past two decades providing care to the most vulnerable young children in his and neighboring communities.

For Dr. Rich Hill, who is based in Carrollton, providing care to the three- and four-year-old students enrolled in the Head Start program is more than just a goodwill effort – it’s his calling.

“I went to a small community where I thought there was a need, because there was one dentist in the entire county, and he was about to retire,” said Dr. Hill. “I was enthusiastic about it because that was my goal, to go where I was needed.”

The federally funded Head Start Program provides early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services for low-income children. By law, Head Start children who are three to five years old must be examined by a dentist within 90 days of enrollment, while children under three must be seen by a dentist or a registered dental hygienist. Each child must receive a dental examination annually.

Dr. Hill and an assistant travel to more than 10 Head Start centers throughout the region. They set up a portable dental clinic in common areas such as cafeterias, where they examine students one class at a time. Most centers have about 100 to 200 students.

“For most of these kids, this is their first exposure to a dentist, so we want to ensure that it was a positive experience for them,” he said.

To accomplish that, Dr. Hill cheers and claps for the students as they enter the area where the portable clinic is staged. He and his assistant then perform dental screenings for each child while constantly reinforcing that child’s self-esteem.

“We’re motivating and educating them, and then we’re rewarding them with toothbrushes,” he said. “Ultimately we’re talking to them on their level.”

The end goal is to ensure each child regularly receives dental care.

“We send the parents a form letting them know what we found and what work needs to be done,” said Dr. Hill. “We help find dentists who will take these children, and we have follow-up conversations with the parents to let them know where their children can receive treatment.”