Marlene Clark has seen her share of children missing class because of an aching tooth. The pulsing pain can make it hard to pay attention and adds up to lost classroom time.
In the past few years, though, schools have become grounds for helping parents find access to dental care.
Clark, the nurse at Mesa’s Eisenhower Elementary School, realizes it’s hard and expensive for many families to get good dental care.
However, companies visit schools to provide at-school dental treatment and checkups, usually for children with insurance, although special days are set aside for children who have no coverage.
"Many of our families don’t have coverage," said Eisenhower principal Pat Estes. "They don’t have health care. If they’ve got rotten teeth in their mouth, on a relatively simple level, other kids will make fun of them. That’s no fun in school to have other kids make fun of you."
Tooth Doctor for Kids routinely visits Eisenhower. Another company that offers similar services is Reach Out Healthcare America.
"This is the best thing we can have in the schools," Clark said. "A lot of children or their parents don’t have transportation. Their children don’t have to leave school and come back. It’s a very vital program. It’s important especially in lower-income areas where a lot of kids wouldn’t get dental care. They’ve seen a need and they’re approaching it within the school."
Tempe dentist Amy Okun’s family has a long tradition of aiding the community. She recently checked teeth for free at the Tempe Elementary School District’s health and nutrition fair.
Okun said it’s important that children set themselves up for a healthy future by growing and maintaining healthy teeth from an early age.
She visits schools to show children how to brush their teeth properly. Sugary snacks that kids eat make them even more susceptible to having damaged teeth, she said.
She has treated children who have cavities in their front teeth from drinking juice from bottles late at night — and kids don’t get as much fluoride as they used to because so many people drink bottled water, Okun said.
Unfortunately, many dentists don’t accept the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System insurance for low-income families, making it even more difficult to get tooth care.
Find out more
For information on available health care or programs, contact your school, insurance company, local dentist or Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System at (602) 417-4000 to see if you qualify for free benefits. Also look online at www.azdhs.gov/cfhs/ooh/index.htm or visit www.reachouthealthcare.com.