Students at Hawthorne public schools could soon be able to have their teeth cleaned at school—for free.
Scott Tomar, chair of the University of Florida Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science, met with Chester Shell Elementary School Principal Holly Burton and Alachua County Public Schools Supervisor of Health Services Patricia Hughes on Wednesday morning to discuss the potential for an on-site dental clinic at Chester Shell Elementary School.
The partnership between the school district and the university is tentatively scheduled to open in January, according to Burton.
The university’s department of community dentistry has been providing free dental screenings to Alachua County third grade students for five years, Tomar said. The department collects data at the screenings and notes trends in dental health over time.
Tomar said the data has identified children living on the eastern side of the county, particularly in Hawthorne and Waldo, have less access to dental care and more dental issues than children living in other parts of the county.
“The school officials have noticed, particularly the school nurse, that the children have had a lot of dental problems — but it was really because of our screening system that identified this as a hot spot,” Tomar said.
The Surgeon General has reported that children born into poverty are twice as likely to develop poor dental hygiene as their more affluent peers. Over forty percent of Hawthorne residents are living below the poverty line according to the American Community Survey.
Despite the socio-economic challenges, Burton said many parents want to get their children to the dentist, but lack transportation or are unable to take off work to get them there. Providing free dental care at school for the students could relieve parents of those burdens.
Chester Shell Elementary School parent, Ashley Frederick, said she used to make an effort to take her oldest daughter to the dentist regularly for check-ups, but has not taken her for about two years.
She said it is difficult for her to take time off of work to take her daughter to a dentist in Gainesville that accepts Medicaid.
“A dental clinic at the school would be amazing for this community,” she said.
Other schools around the nation are also starting to provide dental care for their students. Tomar said he visited a clinic in a school in Rochester, New York, and it led him to think the same thing could be done in Hawthorne.
He said he hopes the clinic will help decrease the number of emergency dental situations children in the area experience by providing preventative care.