LAKEWOOD RANCH — Five-year-old Yoni Morales was all smiles as he reached into a gift bag for his new Spiderman toothbrush.
Through a collaborative effort, he and more than 20 other students at McNeal Elementary School received much-needed dental care April 15 at the Richard T. Conard M.D. Medical and Dental Building at Manatee
Technical Institute’s East Campus.
Under the supervision of Lakewood Ranch Dental’s Dr. Peter Masterson, students in Manatee Technical Institute’s Dental Assisting Program provided each child with a dental cleaning, polishing, fluoride treatment and X-rays. Masterson checked over each child, filled out forms and provided possible referrals about any additional dental care needed.
“Anytime you spend time with kids, it’s fun,” Masterson said. “It’s nice to know a group of people is doing something to help our community and hopefully make it better in the end.”
The partnership with MTI is the culmination of a months-long effort by East County school nurses to provide dental care to students with little to no access to dental care. Last fall, Cheryl Stuart, a nurse at McNeal and Braden River elementary schools, began soliciting the help of local dentists to provide care for her students, many of whom had severe tooth decay.
Creekwood Dental provided free care to about 25 students in February as part of the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile Day, and at that time, the partnership with MTI had yet to be solidified.
With the assistance of Dr. Masterson, everything came together.
“The hope is that this will swell into something where the students can get dental care,” Stuart said. “We’re hoping (MTI) can do the cleaning and immediate care and refer them to dentists for bigger problems. (These families) can’t get this anywhere else for $10.”
Although the partnership is one between public schools, MTI and local dentists, it could not have been accomplished without help from members of the business community, Stuart said.
Soila Abrams and Janet Mendoza, community health workers for the Tillman Full Service Center, transported families who lacked transportation to and from MTI.
McNeal dad William Vasquez, a representative for Proctor & Gamble’s Professional Oral Health Division, and East County businessman Hugo Nunez, owner of Mi Pueblo restaurant, provided translation services as well as dental supplies. Vasquez donated toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and other dental products to the children and to MTI, and Nunez provided each child with a gift bag stuffed with an electric toothbrush and other items.
“I was an immigrant to at one time,” Nunez said with soft smile. “And, I really enjoy the kids.”
So did MTI’s Dental Assisting Program students, who normally do not get to work on children. Program Director Kimberly Bland said the experience was invaluable for her students.
“We know of the community’s need,” Bland said. “That was one of the main reasons we wanted to do this. Secondly, we want our students to be exposed to public need. We’re trying to get a feel for what needs to be done.”
Organizers are not sure how often children will be able to receive dental care through the partnership with MTI, but Bland said she hopes to offer the service at least twice a year. Availability will depend largely on the support from the local dental community because a dentist must be present for MTI students to work on patients.
No other dentists have offered their services at this time, Stuart said.
The program is intended for children whose families cannot afford dental care. Anyone wishing to contribute or seeking more information should contact Sue Troxler at 751-6550.
Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].
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