ADDISON, Maine — Second-grader Devin Beal looked a bit lost in the large dental chair inside the Tooth Ferry van at his school Wednesday morning.
“Do you want to hear my roar?” the 7-year-old asked. Apparently trying to hide his nervousness over the dental exam, Beal chattered on.
“I really like sharks. And dinosaurs,” he said. “Does that toothbrush have a shark on it?”
“Have you been to the dentist before?” dental hygienist Teresa Alley asked him. “Yes. But a different one,” he replied.
“What did you like best about that visit?” Alley asked. “Nothing, really,” the child replied.
In Washington County, it is more likely that finances and availability of services rather than fear keep children and adults from seeing a dentist.
The mobile dental unit sponsored by the Washington County Children’s Program provides some preventive dental care such as cleanings and fluoride treatment to youngsters at 30 schools and 8 preschools each year.
“Today, we are applying sealant [to the teeth of] all second-graders here at D.W. Merritt School,” said Jen Wood, education coordinator for the program and coordinator for the Tooth Ferry van.
But the program also teams up each year with the Delta Dental Plan of Maine, Caring Hands of Maine, and Washington Hancock Community Agency, to bring dozens of dentists and dental students from New York University’s College of Dentistry to treat children and adults in Machias.
The free program has provided dental exams and services, including fillings, crowns and extractions, to more than 1,500 children and adults in its last two visits.
“This will be [the dentistry school’s] third trip to Maine,” said Wood. All of the second-graders visiting with the Tooth Ferry in Addison on Wednesday were seen during the NYU clinics last year, she said.
Dr. Stuart Hirsch, head of NYU’s dentistry program, spearheaded last year’s clinics. “This is a transforming experience for all the people who come, including us,” Hirsch said during last year’s event. “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 will be tracking this year’s returning children in Machias in hopes of seeing similar progress here.
At the clinics, which will be held at the Lee Pellon Center during the week of Oct. 17-22, no-cost services will be offered to families in Washington County that do not currently have a dental provider. Children will receive complete dental care and adults will be offered emergency dental care on a walk-in basis.
Wood said that children who attended previous clinics should return for a follow-up visit. MaineCare will be accepted though not required. Clinic hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The clinic will be closed on Thursday, Oct. 20.
For information, contact Alley at 255-3426 or www.wcp.net.