MACHIAS, Maine — Since the creation of a free dental clinic in 2010, tooth decay rates among Washington County dental clinic patients have dropped from 35 to 20 percent, according to a clinic official.
“We’re seeing an improvement,” said Teresa Alley, dental clinic coordinator.
The Northeast Delta Dental Foundation and Henry Schein Cares Foundation are sponsoring the clinic, which is set for April 11-13 and April 15-16 at the Lee Pellon Event Center at 90 Main St. About 35 volunteers from the New York University College of Dentistr y Henry Schein Cares Global Student Outreach Program will provide free dental care to children and adults.
The clinic is not meant to replace regular care patients may be getting through a dentist. Instead, it is intended to make care more accessible to those who can’t afford it, Alley said.
“The challenges to getting to the dentist’s office [in Washington County] are very large,” said Alley. They include transportation issues, affordability and waiting lists at existing dental offices.
Christy Rolfe, a kindergarten teacher at Rose Gaffney Elementary School, said she has seen students become more comfortable with dental hygiene and dentistry in general since the first clinic in October 2010. The Washington County Children’s Program brings busloads of children from schools and Head Start programs to the clinic each year.
Older students, who have been to past clinics, are definitely more comfortable with dentistry, but Rolfe also is seeing higher comfort levels in her kindergartners, who have not previously gone to the clinic through the school.
Rolfe said the first year the clinic came to town, she had 20 students in her class and 12 of them had no prior experience with dental care. This year, she has 23 students in her class and 20 of them already have had a positive experience with dentistry.
“[The clinic] is promoting good habits and good behavior,” Rolfe said. “The awareness is there now.”
Since the clinic began, volunteers have performed more than 1,500 dental sealants and 833 fillings for 900 Head Start and school-age children, said Alley.
Rolfe said she encourages parents to go to the clinic with their children. Not only does it help the children with their fears but also parents get to hear what the dentists are saying about dental hygiene and health.
Rolfe, who has no dental insurance, has personal experience with the dental clinic. Last year, she used it to get a tooth repaired after it broke and left a sharp edge.
“It saved me a whole lot of money, and that’s obviously a reason people don’t go to the dentist — because it costs so much,” Rolfe said.
Another clinic client, Tracy Henderson of Machiasport, found herself in need of a filling, a root canal and a tooth extraction last year. She also used the clinic because she didn’t have the $2,000 necessary for the procedures and no dental insurance.
“They were amazing,” Henderson said of clinic personnel who include both local volunteers and volunteers. Henderson said she she felt “humbled” by the experience of receiving assistance and has a better understanding of how people she helps through her work must feel. She works as a teacher of English as a second language for several clients, and she is a parent guide through Maine Hands and Voices, which supports families with children who are deaf or hearing impaired.
“Now I can do something for somebody else and understand what it’s like to be on their end,” she said.
Alley said this year, clinic personnel anticipate treating about 600 adults who walk in for dental procedures. Many of them wait a long time.
“People are willing to wait for hours [for clinic treatment],” said Alley. “It just speaks to what the need is.”
For more information on the clinic, call Alley at 255-3426.