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Fighting tooth decay one school at a time

Health — The Dental Foundation of Oregon's Tooth Taxi makes its fourth stop at Edwards Elementary in the last five years


Rarely are kids as excited to go to the dentist as nearly 50 Edwards Elementary School students were last week.

Apparently, that’s the effect the Dental Foundation of Oregon’s Tooth Taxi — a mobile dental van that travels the state to provide free treatment and oral health education to schools and community centers — has on young students.

The taxi was parked outside the school all week, screening 48 children and providing treatment valued at $16,710 to 28 students.by: SETH GORDON - Dental health - Dr. Jennifer McLeod (left) and assistant Catherine Johnson provide free dental care for Edwards Elementary School second-grade student Jaysha Torres Friday in the Dental Foundation of Oregon's Tooth Taxi, which stationed at the school all week.

“They think it’s very fun,” Edwards principal Sue Luthra said. “We have some kids that have some major dental work done, so they may not be feeling good, but basically the kids love to go over there and get screened.”

Part of the Tooth Taxi program’s approach is to make it a fun experience so that kids will learn to value oral health at a young age, even though program manager Mary Daly said 99.98 percent of the kids don’t come in scared about the dental visit.

“We’ve found often it’s the parents that are fearful, like they might write a note on the child’s history form that they’re afraid,” Daly said. “The kids are just fine.”

The mobile clinic does research to identify schools and communities where their assistance is needed, but like Edwards has done, the service can also be requested.

Having hosted the taxi four times since 2010, the staff at Edwards is very familiar with the process, which in­cludes reaching out to families in need and getting the paperwork done before the service arrives.

The program does not currently have a staff dentist, so five different dentists in the Portland area volunteered to do screenings or provide treatment, including Oregon Dental Service senior vice president Dr. Bill Ten Pas, who oversees Tooth Taxi operations, and Dundee’s Dr. Jennifer McLeod, who is a former Tooth Taxi dentist herself. Even when the van is fully staffed, volunteer dental professionals from communities all over the state give their time to the program.

The 14,000 children and more than $4 million of services the van has provided since it was first developed in 2008 proves there is need across the state and Daly said the mobile nature of the program helps provide treatment to wide array of people.

“One thing we’ve discovered in this program five years now is most of the kids have Oregon Health Plan, but even though they’ve got coverage, it doesn’t mean they’re using it,” Daly said. “They don’t know their benefits, they’re still not getting to the dentist, transportation is an issue and with parents working on a minimum wage job it’s hard to take time off. I think the success is being at the schools all week, getting a lot of work done.”

Luthra said that there will always be a need for the services the program provides, which include sending home a summary, including future needs and even x-rays, and that the van will attempt to return for a couple of days in late May to treat more students.

“They’re an invaluable resource here,” she said.



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