Mobile dental clinic helps kids

Few people enjoy going to the dentist, but for some people, that isn't the problem. In tough economic times, what some people view as nonessential medical services, such as dental care, can be one of the first budget items cut.

But for the children of Estacada, services such as Tooth Taxi exist to solve that problem.

Funded by Oregon Dental Services, The Dental Foundation of Oregon and the Oregon Education Association (OEA) Choice Trust, the Tooth Taxi was launched in 2008 to provide free dental care to children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The OEA travels to schools across the state and identifies areas that are in the greatest need.

'Our goal is to get to the kids who have been falling through the cracks,' said dental assistant Chanel Kim. 'We will treat kids who are in pain even if they have insurance, though.'

When they arrive on campus, the goal is to treat 100 students over the course of a week. On the first day, the staff will screen all of the students who signed up for appointments. Once the screening is complete, they begin to see children based on need and how much work needs to be done.

What makes this service unique is that the Tooth Taxi is a full-service clinic, operated by three foundation-funded employees and a project manager.

'Pretty much anything goes here except for lab work and braces,' Kim said. 'We can do everything that a regular dentist can do.'

In addition to Kim, the van is operated by Dr. Jennifer McLeod, Catherine Johnson and program manager Mary Daly. While in Estacada, they were grateful to get Dr. Peter Lax and assistant Mette Singer to volunteer their services.

While the van occasionally returns to schools for a second visit if the need is great enough, this was actually the first trip it's made to Estacada.

Interestingly, the turnout wasn't as great as expected.

'There weren't a lot of forms turned in here, and we're not sure why,' Kim said. 'But the kids we saw who needed the care really needed it.

'We've actually seen a lot of 12th-graders who had never been to the dentist since I've been working here,' she said.

The one good thing about the low turnout was that it offered the children who were interested the opportunity to get all of the care they needed, scheduling up to four appointments.

While this program is designed solely for children, the van does offer services to people outside of its boundaries.

For children who can't receive all of the care they need on board, the taxi can connect the students with Oregon Dental Services children's programs, which can help with up to $500 in additional dental costs.

For adults, the best option is 'Mission of Mercy,' an event held at the Portland Convention Center at which more than 1,000 people are treated.

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