by: JANIS BRENTANO - Tooth Taxi dental assistant Catherine Johnson cleans the teeth of first-grader Dylan Galvin during the mobile clinic's recent visit to Gervais Elementary School.As rain pounded the outside of the bright green motor home, inside Gervais Elementary School first-grader Dylan Galvin stayed warm and dry, reclining in a dental chair and watching Looney Tunes on the ceiling monitor. Dylan was one of more than 40 Gervais School District students who received free dental work last week through the Tooth Taxi, a mobile dental clinic.

The clinic rolled into Gervais and set up shop in front of Gervais Middle School last Monday. The flashy exterior of the 38-foot motor home is wrapped with giant photos of smiling kids. But where the clinic really shines is in the interior. The inside of the motor home has been transformed into a high tech dental office complete with digital X-ray capabilities.

The clinic is equipped with two exam spaces fitted with dental chairs and equipment. This enabled Dylan to have his teeth cleaned and flossed in one space, while Tooth Taxi dentist Kevin Prates removed a problem tooth from fourth-grader Sergio Santos Rivera in another. Prates can perform a variety of treatments in the mobile clinic including filling cavities, applying sealants and performing extractions.

“Pretty much anything that someone would need at a dental office, we can do (here) for a child,” said Becca Jordan, Tooth Taxi dental assistant.

When the mobile unit arrived at the school, the Tooth Taxi staff screened 49 students and triaged them for treatment. Jordan said they planned to treat about 43 students during the week’s stay in Gervais. Tooth Taxi dental assistant Catherine Johnson was also busy giving classroom presentations about the importance of caring for your teeth.

“We give them reasons why (brushing and flossing) is important,” Jordan said. “For older kids we show them pictures of a 14-year-old who had really badly decayed teeth. We explain that you are responsible for taking care of your teeth and this is what can happen to you if you don’t.”

Gervais and Woodburn have been annual stops for the Tooth Taxi. The mobile clinic targets rural communities with dental care needs.

As Sergio waited to go back to class after his tooth extraction, Prates gave him a paper copy of his X-ray.

“Look, here is the tooth we took out,” said Prates, as he circled the extracted tooth. “Don’t forget to brush!” he wrote on the paper and bundled it together with the tooth for Sergio to take home.

Prates said they see a wide range of kids coming in for treatment, both dentistry first-timers and regulars.

“It’s always scary screening a kid who doesn’t have any fillings, but you see a bunch of dark spots because the likelihood is that they haven’t been to the dentist before. And then when we do get the X-rays we see that there is just tons of work to get done,” he said.

Prates typically treats about 11 students per day in the clinic. Although Prates said they treat the students with the most needs first, if time allows, students needing a cleaning but not treatment are given preventative care.

Supplementing the Tooth Taxi staff is a revolving volunteer staff made up of local dental professionals who work when the clinic is in their community.

Since the Tooth Taxi’s launch in late 2008, staff and volunteers have provided dental care to more than 6,000 students throughout the state. The non-profit mobile clinic is funded through a partnership with OEA Choice Trust, Moda Health and the Dental Foundation of Oregon, the charitable arm of the Oregon Dental Association.

“Access to dental care is a real problem in Oregon,” said C.J. McLeod DFO board president. “The Tooth Taxi is delivering care and oral health education directly to children who need it most.”

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