More than 420 students attending Guadalupe Center’s Summer Enrichment Program and Early Childhood Education Program received free dental screenings through a program funded by the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) this summer.
One by one, children climbed into exam chairs in July to have their teeth and gums examined by dental hygienists and residents from the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry, NCEF Pediatric Dental Center. In addition to screenings, the students also received cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants, as well as instruction about proper techniques for brushing and flossing their teeth. Children with severe oral problems are referred to a local dentist.
Dr. Scott Tomar, a professor in UF’s Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science, said dental clinics in lower-income, rural communities like Immokalee are especially important to ensure that children receive preventative dental services on a regular basis. Children face a series of barriers in seeing the dentist, including cost, transportation and the lack of pediatric dentists in the area.
The UF College of Dentistry’s outreach team set up pop-up dentist offices at Guadalupe Center as well as Immokalee’s Pinecrest Elementary School, home to Guadalupe Center’s Summer Enrichment Program. Initial screening results show that more than half of students seen in the summer program had untreated tooth decay, and nearly one in six students was identified as having an “urgent dental need.” Clinic staff notified parents whose children had severe pain or infections so they could schedule appointments with a local dentist.
UF’s pediatric dental team visits Guadalupe Center’s year-round Early Childhood Education Program four times a year for screenings, treatments, education and referrals for 270 children.
“This program is critically important for our students because many of their families do not have the means to make regular visits to the dentist office,” said Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center. “With the assistance of our community partners, we were able to bring the dentist office to them.”
Another barrier is attitudinal, Tomar said, because visiting the dentist often has a negative connotation, especially for children.
“They may only go to the dentist if something hurts, and then they’ll have a tooth taken out,” said Tomar, who helps coordinate the NCEF Pediatric Dental Center. “The idea of bringing a child to the dentist office before there’s a problem is not a familiar concept.”
As part of the clinic’s education program, dental staff show children how to take care of their teeth and gums to avoid problems in the future.
“I learned that you need to brush your teeth every day,” Amelia Gonzales said after her visit. “If not, then you’re going to get cavities in your teeth.”
About Guadalupe Center
Guadalupe Center is a purpose-driven, nonprofit organization with proven results in creating endless possibilities for the students of Immokalee through education and fostering personal and academic success that leads to economic independence. With a focus on breaking the cycle of poverty through education, Guadalupe Center is proud of the children’s accomplishments: 95% meet or exceed kindergarten readiness measures, 100% of Tutor Corps high school seniors graduate high school and are accepted into college, and more than 92% graduate with a post-secondary degree.