|Mendocino Community Health Clinic HealthCorps member Tom Fuchs teaches kindergarteners about healthy teeth. Photo courtesy of Mendocino Community Health Clinic.|
UKIAH, Calif. – Mendocino Community Health Clinic (MCHC) recently completed its annual Smiles Program, providing free oral health education, dental screening, fluoride varnishing to more than 2,350 local preschool and elementary school students in Ukiah, Willits and Lakeport.
MCHC targets schools with at least half of the student population on free or reduced lunch programs to stay in line with the health center’s mission of serving the most vulnerable populations.
Nationally, about half of children ages 6-15 are affected by dental disease (decayed or missing teeth).
MCHC HealthCorps member Tom Fuchs spearheaded the 2013-14 Smiles Program. He provided age-appropriate education, modifying his approach for each grade level.
For young children, Fuchs helped decrease fear of the dentist with the aid of a dinosaur puppet featuring a full set of friendly, human-looking teeth, and by putting on all the garb a dentist wears, including gloves, a headlamp, a mask, and a smock.
“What’s this?” Fuchs asks kindergarteners as he holds up the smock.
“A dress,” they replied.
“Right,” he said.
“And even the boy dentists wear these dresses,” he continues without missing a beat.
Kindergarteners look at each other quizzically and laugh as Fuchs dons the smock.
“Dentists wear protective clothing that may look funny, but dentists aren’t scary,” he assures them.
For older students, Fuchs educates them about how much sugar is in soda and the chemical process that occurs when sugar remains on the teeth. He encourages students to take responsibility for brushing their teeth regularly.
As someone who plans to become a research physician in neuroscience, Fuchs has a passion for science education and is able to reach students regardless of their age.
About a week after Fuchs visits each classroom, MCHC dental staff visit the same classrooms to provide dental screenings and flouride varnishing.
The screening can alert parents to potential dental problems and the varnish provides a protective coating to help prevent cavities.
Children with healthy teeth can be spared the pain and developmental setbacks that dental disease can bring, so MCHC reaches out to local schools through the Smiles Program each year.
MCHC also provides dental care to children at its three health centers: Hillside Health Center in Ukiah, Little Lake Health Center in Willits, and Lakeside Health Center in Lakeport.
For more information, visit www.mchcinc.org or call 707-468-1010.