San Antonio (Feb. 10, 2004) – “I think this is great for our kids,” said Estefana Martinez, a board member of the Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio, as Edgewood second-graders filed into the Dental School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “These little ones need to know how to take care of their teeth.”
The second-graders were at the Dental School to receive free oral exams, sealants for potential cavity areas, fluoride mouth rinses, battery-powered toothbrushes and educational literature as part of a program that aims to prevent oral health problems in Edgewood students. The project is a public service of the Dental School, the Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc., Procter & Gamble’s Oral Care Division and the Edgewood ISD.
On two mornings in February, about 700 children from 12 Edgewood elementary schools took the field trip to the Dental School. This year’s program was in conjunction with the American Dental Association’s national “Give Kids a Smile” program.
“This is meant to be a positive experience for the kids,” said Gary F. Guest, D.D.S., director of predoctoral clinics at the Dental School. “It is part of their health education. If a child needs more invasive treatment, we identify that for the parents in a follow-up form indicating that their child was observed to have problems necessitating additional dental care. Rather than having sealants placed, some children are referred to the Ricardo Salinas Dental Clinic in Southwest San Antonio and other dental programs around the city for necessary care.”
Last year, more than 1,300 sealants were placed in the project. The children in this year’s activity, through the support of Crest Healthy Smiles 2010, received a “Spin Brush” and educational literature to take home.
A sealant is estimated to be worth $25 in a dentist’s office. Last year’s program provided more than $30,000 in free care to the children, many of whom are from low-income families.
“The Edgewood community is very grateful and pleased to have this partnership with the Health Science Center Dental School and Methodist Healthcare Ministries,” said Julia Garcia, director of health services in the Edgewood ISD. “The dental services provided to our students, including an oral exam, fluoride and sealant application, if needed, and dental health education will help prevent dental disease and promote good oral health. This type of assistance helps our students come to school in good health and better able to learn.”
Ninety percent of all tooth decay in schoolchildren occurs in tiny pits and fissures of the teeth, according to a report from the U.S. surgeon general. The good news is that those pits and fissures can be filled with sealants to prevent the decay. The procedure is minimally invasive and highly beneficial – at least two-thirds of sealants continue to protect against decay five years after placement, studies show. “It is an effective public health measure,” Dr. Guest said.
Joe Babb, director of clinics and community benefits for Methodist Healthcare Ministries, said: “We have seen firsthand the direct correlation between dental health, overall health and a child’s ability to learn. It’s one of the most critical programs we support in terms of a good investment in the future of these children and in our community.”
Methodist Healthcare Ministries, the largest non-public funding source for community health care in South Texas, commits $2.6 million annually to its own and other community dental programs for the underserved. This is Methodist’s third year of collaboration with the Dental School and Edgewood on the dental sealant program.
Last year, 25 to 30 children were identified with serious oral problems, Dr. Guest said.
Martinez, who was a teacher and early childhood supervisor in the Edgewood ISD for 33 years, remembers writing letters to obtain toothbrushes and toothpaste for her students. She taught many students how to brush. The trip to the Dental School is a wonderful learning experience for the second-graders, she said.