Marilyn Hardy, a dentist from Arkansas Childrens Hospital, shows Southwood student Carriea Collins the proper way to brush her teeth. (Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers)
A mobile dental clinic from Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock spent the day Thursday providing free teeth cleanings and other dental services for children at Southwood Elementary School.
Dentist Courtney Johnson said that Children’s determines which schools to go to by consulting the federal free and reduced cost lunch program statistics.
“We visit school sites with at least 80 percent of their students in the free and reduced lunch program,” Johnson said. “We see kids with no current dental home, who haven’t been to the dentist in the past year and who have no dental insurance.”
Johnson said that the program has been out visiting schools since June 2009.
“We are a year-round program, visiting schools during the academic year and going to Boys and Girls Clubs during the summer months,” Johnson said.
“Helping the children is so important,” Johnson said. “This job is really rewarding. We keep it friendly and light here so that they are not afraid. They’re fine after seeing that there is nothing to be afraid of.”
Johnson said the clinic is divided into a hygiene unit and a restorative unit.
“On the hygiene side we do cleanings and provide health instruction to them on how to keep their teeth healthy,” Johnson said. “On the restorative side we provide fillings and crowns.”
Johnson said that as of midday they had seen six students and expected to treat three more in the afternoon.
“On a busy day we will see 16, with eight in the hygiene unit and eight in the restorative unit,” Johnson said.
Dental assistant Meredith Coleman said that they had once even performed a root canal for a child in need of the procedure.
Dental hygienist Marilyn Hardy said she enjoys the part she is playing in helping to improve dental care for needy children.
“It’s just a great opportunity for kids,” Hardy said. “Many of them have never seen a hygienist or don’t even know what a hygienist is. We are here to help to educate them about health. The kids are really attentive. I am excited to come out here. It’s a mission for me. I love it because it is a mission. These kids can’t pay, but you can never get paid back for something that you love.”
Hardy said that the work that is being done by Children’s Hospital and other groups has helped to improve the juvenile dental health statistics for the state of Arkansas.
“We have made a lot of progress,” Hardy said. “Arkansas was one of the lowest in the nation in oral care for children but that has started to come up. The numbers have changed.”
Hardy said that Children’s Hospital has three trucks in its mobile dental clinic fleet that serve Southeast, Central and Northwest Arkansas.
Tarrah Taggart, Southwood attendance clerk, had her third-grade daughter Cece Collins take advantage of the clinic.
“This is a real convenience for working parents who don’t have time to take their kids to the dentist,” Taggart said. “It is a really good service and I am satisfied with their work.”
Southwood principal Alfred Carroll was happy to have the clinic at his school.
“I have to complement our director of student health and special services Suzette Anderson for coordinating and expanding this program to cover other schools, including Southwood,” Carroll said. “This is a great thing for our students who don’t have insurance for their dental health needs. I’m excited about it. This is a great opportunity for students to receive health services.”
Carroll was also impressed with the positive role model aspect to the dental clinic.
“This is a great opportunity for our students to see African-American females who are doctors,” Carroll said. “The kids are treated in an up-close-and-personal environment with professionals who have a great bedside manner.”
“I just think it is great,” Carroll said. “Great that our students are getting the health care that they need and great that they are meeting these professionals.”