By The Grand Rapids Press
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on October 02, 2014 at 2:38 PM, updated October 02, 2014 at 2:50 PM
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – More than 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness, according to Peggy Betzinger, director of school link health programs for Cherry Street Health Services.
Since 1992, the nonprofit community health center, has been providing dental services to students often for free, if they lack insurance or Medicaid.
The dental teams and hygienists are projected to serve 13,000 Kent County students during the 2014-15 school year. Last year, 12,361children received cleanings.
“A healthy child is a student more likely to be successful,” said Betzinger, who said tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease.
That’s why she said the agency has been committed to removing barriers to care such as transportation, a challenge for many of their families. Dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants travel to school campuses.
On Thursday, Oct. 2, Isaiah Applewhite spent around 30 minutes in the chair getting a cleaning at Hope Academy of West Michigan, 240 Brown St. SE, while his mother looked on. He headed back to class after the procedure.
“This helps out a lot," said Jessica Vasquez, who said her third-grader at Hope also benefits from the services. “We only have one car right now.”
Vasquez, who lives a short walk from the school, said the services allows her to make sure the boys have regular cleanings.
Isaiah was the last patient for dental hygienist Julie Hilton and dental assistant, Celia Thome. Service was provided to 144 of the school’s 330 K-12 charter students, over the last couple weeks.
“The education part is huge because some of them may not be getting that at home,” said Hilton , about giving an upbeat tutorial on oral health during the procedure.
The dentists came to the school before the hygienist teams and conducted examinations and X-rays for all who signed a consent form.
Betzinger said eight traditional public school districts are among the 72 different schools served: Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Comstock Park, Cedar Springs, Wyoming, Kelloggsville, Godwin and Godfrey-Lee. Ridge Park Charter Academy is the only other charter school served along with six Head Start programs. The program began with just two schools.
The agency is able to cover the cost of the cleaning for the uninsured through multiple grants. If more extensive dental work is needed, parents are referred to one of the six clinics that provide dental care. There is a sliding fee based on income.
Hope Academy Principal Phillip Haack said the dental service has been huge benefit to their families heir student body, many of whom are economically disadvantaged.
“We know that if kids are afraid, hurting or hungry, any of those basic needs, that gets in the way of them learning,” said Haack, who said the service all keeps students in the building learning instead potentially not returning from an appointment or coming that day.
Betzinger said the nonprofit launched a vision program last year, serving 3,300 children in Kent County.