Dental students make mouths happy
February is National Children's Dental Health Month and dental assisting students at Dakota County Technical College marked the occasion last Saturday by participating in this year's Give Kids a Smile program.
Try saying that with a toothbrush in your mouth.
Give Kids a Smile is a national event which pairs dental professionals and assistants with children in need of a check-up. With many children living without dental insurance, Give Kids a Smile was developed to provide children with basic dental health care and education. Though there are many such events held in Minnesota on or around Feb. 6, the event at DCTC was the only one in the state to be operated mainly by dental assisting students.
The 15 students, with the help of one dentist, one dental assistant and two instructors, provided approximately 30 children with free dental care this year.
The children, who are all residents of Dakota County, signed up in advance and were allowed to take part in the program based on need. Many of the children participating came from low-income families or families without dental insurance. Though the children must be registered for the program in advance, Diana Sullivan, dental assistant instructor at Dakota County Technical College, said she is happy to assist as many children as possible.
"If a child really needs to come in and wants to come in, I would say come in," Sullivan said. "I don't think I would turn anybody down."
Though the program does cater to some high school aged children, Sullivan said it focuses mainly on a younger crowd with children as young as 3 and 4. Four-year-old Mason Swanson, of Rosemount, was just one of the children who made his first visit to the dentist last Saturday. After having his teeth cleaned and polished, Mason left with a brighter smile and of course, a blue toothbrush from a dental assisting student.
However, the dental students did much more than hand out tooth-brushes. Sherralyn S. Cox, dean of design and health/human services for DCTC, said the dental students involved in the program were responsible for taking part in polishing and flossing the children's teeth, along with providing fluoride treatments.
The amount of dental work each child needs varies greatly, Cox said. While some children may only need cleaning and fluoride work, other children may require fillings. In that case, there is a dentist and dental assistant on hand.
"The dentist sees each patient before they leave," Cox said. "According to a state dental practice act, a dentist must assist on all patients."
Providing children with dental care however is only a small part of Give Kids a Smile Day. The other half is educating children and families on brushing habits and healthy choices.
Cox said dental health often begins in the kitchen when families are deciding what to feed their children for meals and snacks. Though many times it is easiest to grab an affordable unhealthy snack from the shelf, families should consider how the snack will affect children's gums and teeth. Many quick and easy snacks end up resulting in toothaches compared to healthier choices such as cheese, yogurt or fruit.
"If we can get children assistance and education them, maybe they will never have to have a filling," Cox said.
This was Dakota County Technical College's third year participating in Give Kids a Smile. The college hopes to hold another event next year around the same time.