Merlene Davis: BCTC dental hygiene students offer free cleanings, screenings for children

Herald-Leader columnistMarch 29, 2014 

Not only does the Bluegrass Community and Technical College offer free oral exams for children, but sometimes dental hygiene students dress as the Tooth Fairy or a Fairy Princess to spice up the procedures. In 2011, Terra Ramsdale, standing left, and Nikki St. Lawrence talked with a patient while Charissa Gotcher conducted the examination.

  • IF YOU GO

    "Give Kids a Smile Week"

    What: A three-day free clinic conducted by dental hygiene students at Bluegrass Community and Technical College for children ages 4-12.

    When: March 30, April 1-2, by appointment only.

    Where: Room 250, Oswald Building, BCTC Cooper Campus, 370 Cooper Drive

    Information: Call (859) 246-6857 for an appointment.

The dental hygiene students at Bluegrass Community and Technical College are giving children in this area a gift they can treasure all their lives: healthy teeth and gums.

While that gift may not be as desirous to our children as a basket filled with chocolates and jelly beans at Easter, it will be a gift children and parents will appreciate in coming years.

As is the case every year at this time, BCTC students are giving free dental cleanings and the required kindergarten screenings to children ages 4-12 during the "Give Kids a Smile Week." The exams are free and by appointment only.

"It is provided as an opportunity for anyone who needs free care," said Melissa Kemp, BCTC Dental Hygiene Clinic Coordinator. "We have wonderful products to give away and we'd love to have the kids come."

The free exams will be offered Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. There are time slots still available, but if you find they're booked by the time you call, Kemp said, she would schedule the children for another day.

In addition to the exam, the children will be given an X-ray, fluoride varnish treatment, and free dental supplies.

A dental sealant is also available for children who have their permanent teeth. The sealants are thin plastic coatings that are painted on chewing surfaces of molars. The pits and grooves of molars are sometimes hard to clean, opening the door for tooth cavities, Kemp said. The treatment, which normally costs $15 at the school, can last two to three years, and is free this week.

"It really decreases tooth decay," Kemp said.

A reduction in tooth decay is something Kentuckians generally need. According to findings from the Centers for Disease Control, 27.4 percent of older Kentuckians were completely toothless in 2010. The same report said only 63 percent of adults in this state had visited a dentist or dental clinic in the previous 12 months.

Long term, poor dental health has been connected to diabetes, Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease.

For children with poor oral health, school absences are higher as are emergency room visits. The CDC calls tooth decay the most common chronic disease among children. Some 40 percent have decay by the time they are in kindergarten.

Early check-ups, fluoride and dental sealants can prevent that scenario and give children a more confident smile.

"It is very important to get these children treated before their baby teeth are so decayed and the permanent teeth don't have a path to come through on," she said.

BCTC students are required to see four pediatric patients to complete his or her course work, Kemp said. A dentist is always on hand at the cleanings as well as supervisors such as herself.

"We have two faculty members on each side of the clinic," she said, "and the students are being observed and checked. This is considered their lab."

The dentist determines if a patient has decay and, if found, the patient is referred to a private dentist or to a clinic at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.

"Give Kids a Smile Week" is geared to children, but the hygiene clinic welcomes all ages at the BCTC Cooper Campus. From January through April, the clinic is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Then it opens again on the same days from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, Kemp said. The cost is $35 for a treatment period, which may take more than one visit because it is a teaching facility.

For more information about the clinic, call (859) 246-6235 or email Kemp at Melissa.kemp@kctcs.edu.

We can prevent tooth decay. That's why the free dental exams are a much better gift for our children than a basket of Easter candy.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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