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U of M students to administer oral assessments at Jefferson

WILLMAR -- Jefferson Elementary Head Start students should spend a little extra time brushing their pearly whites before school Friday. Students in their final clinical year at the University of Minnesota's school of dentistry will administer oral assessments to students at the Willmar school.

"Working with the clinic provides our families the opportunity to access dental care they possibly hadn't had before," Amy Berry, Head Start's family service manager, said in a news release. In 2007, the U of M and Head Start formed a special alliance to help improve the oral health of some of the community's youngest children. Educating families on the importance of dental care is one of Head Start's goals. Regulations mandate children to have their first oral exam within 45 days from the start of school.

Last year, Head Start students received care by coming to the clinic, according to Karen Carlson, clinic administrator with Rice Regional Dental Clinic. She said lack of transportation was an issue for families, particularly those in more rural areas where dentists aren't available.

To overcome these geographic and transportation barriers, the dental clinic received a grant and purchased a portable patient chair and oral checkup supplies.

"Now we can go to the Head Start children right in the schools, and hopefully enable 100 percent of the kids to receive dental care," Carlson said.

She adds that the clinic sees only the children who don't have a regular dentist.

"Working with Heartland (Community Action Agency's) Head Start program, we ensure that these children don't fall through the gaps and not receive the dental care they deserve. It's a win-win situation for everyone -- the children and their families, for Head Start, and for our clinic."

Rice Regional Dental Clinic served more than 250 children throughout nine counties last year, and hopes to continue this service with as many children again this school year. Dental students and hygienists conduct the exam on the children, which includes a bubble-gum flavored fluoride treatment and visual tooth check. According to Carlson, the dental students don't often get the opportunity to work with youngsters. By coming to the classroom, they hope to provide a light-hearted, non-threatening atmosphere for the children, while providing the dental students a great hands-on experience.

If a serious issue is discovered during an exam, the children are referred to a pediatric dentist at Rice Regional Dental. Or, if the family already has a local dentist, Head Start ensures that a follow-up visit is scheduled.