MACHIAS, Maine — His glasses still a bit askew on his small face, 7-year-old Keaghan Castleberry admitted Tuesday that he was a bit nervous coming in for his dental appointment.
But after he had a cavity filled and a cleaning, he flashed a bright smile and said, “They were really nice.”
Castleberry was one of hundreds of Washington County children, including entire classes from Head Start programs in Pleasant Point and Calais, who will receive free dental services this week from New York University College of Dentistry students and professors.
NYU doctors said they hope to use Machias’ rural clinic as a model to expand the free services throughout New England.
Castleberry’s mother, Amanda MacLean, said that dental care is too expensive for her family of six.
“Besides, even if we could afford it, the local dentists are too booked up,” MacLean said. “This program is fantastic.”
On Monday, the first day of the five-day clinic, dozens of people were lined up outside the door before the opening, and 83 children and 40 adults received treatment, according to Rachel Hill. NYU conducts up to 12 of these rural outreach programs a year.
“This is the most efficiently set up and run one yet,” Hill said of the Machias clinic, which was held at the Lee Pellon Center. “I credit that to the strong partnerships with the local groups.”
This unique partnership among local providers, such as the Washington County Children’s Program, the Washington Hancock Community Agency and Down East Community Hospital, is allowing hundreds of residents to receive much-needed dental treatment and examinations for years.
The four-year program involves linking dentistry students from NYU with people in Washington County who have no access to dental services.
“It is an opportunity for us to give back,” dental student Valentine Sviatocha of Ukraine said Tuesday.
It took tremendous coordination to bring the 11 students, doctors and equipment to Maine, the doctors said. A bus was rented for the students, and more than 1,500 pounds of supplies and equipment were transported to Machias.
“I just got my Maine license two weeks ago,” said Dr. Stuart Hirsch, head of NYU’s dentistry program.
“Everyone wants to believe they are doing something good,” Hirsch said. “But this, this is a transforming experience for all the people who come, including us. We know we can make a difference in their health.”
Hirsch said a similar program in Hudson, N.Y., began three years ago. At the beginning, 43 of every 100 children had tooth decay at a rate of 3.4 holes in teeth per child.
“Once we arrived, that rate dropped in one year to 15 of every 100 children with 1.2 teeth holes,” he said.
Hirsch said public service is what he hopes to teach his students.
“I want students to realize that dentistry is beyond just having an office and appointments,” he said. “It includes the whole public health aspect. We need to change people’s thinking.”
Dr. Amr Moursi, head of pediatric dentistry at NYU, said the Machias clinic was going extremely well.
“We treated 83 children yesterday,” he said. “That’s extraordinary.”
Moursi said that Washington County’s children are pretty average in the problems they present.
“There is a lot of need, a lot of untreated tooth decay,” he said. “Parents are really eager to learn what to do to maintain good oral health.”
Moursi said there are three pillars to the rural program — treatment, education and training.
“We will be leaving materials for our partners when we leave, and we’ll be back in April for follow-up care,” he said. “This is not a one-shot deal. The idea is to create a sustainable program.”
The clinic will remain open today, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 6, 8 and 9. No one needs an appointment. The clinic opens at 8:30 a.m. each day and closes at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; 5 p.m. Friday; and 1 p.m. Saturday.
For information, contact Teresa Alley at Washington County Children’s Program at 255-3426.