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Examiner
  • A bright idea for brighter smiles

  • Big smiles. That’s what Dr. Paula Livingston and Dr. Beth Gehring want to see in the Independence elementary schools. And they’re working on it, one school – one student – at a time.


    Livingston and Gehring are practicing dentists in a program that partners Truman Medical Center-Lakewood and the Independence School District to bring dental care directly to students.

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  • Big smiles. That’s what Dr. Paula Livingston and Dr. Beth Gehring want to see in the Independence elementary schools. And they’re working on it, one school – one student – at a time.
    Livingston and Gehring are practicing dentists in a program that partners Truman Medical Center-Lakewood and the Independence School District to bring dental care directly to students.
    The program got started last school year, when the Independence School District a sked TMC-Lakewood if it could help solve a growing problem in the district, kids with unmet dental health needs.
    Livingston said she had been noticing a trend for a while. TMC-Lakewood provides screenings and care for the developmentally disabled students at the nearby Lakeview Woods State School, which takes students from around the area. In her notes, Livingston saw that many of the kids who needed dental care were from the Independence School District, although she says the need also exists in other districts in Eastern Jackson County. 
    Beginning in October, the TMC dentists, along with assistant Moises Vallerio, started making the rounds. Their first stop was Sugar Creek Elementary, followed by Fairmount and Three Trails, all in the western part of the district. They worked their way through the district during the school year and have continued this summer.
    They hauled in chairs and equipment loaned by the UMKC School of Dentristry, setting up shop wherever they could find space. In cafeterias. In libraries. On stages.  In gymnasiums. And when the space was needed for lunch or class, they stopped and waited.
    “We see every student,” Livingston said. “We make sure every child at least gets the educational part of the program.”
    They teach the importance of good nutrition and clean teeth, and what happens if they don’t take care of their teeth.
    Gehring pointed out, “Some of these kids don’t even own floss or a toothbrush. And they’re surprised to hear some of the foods that can be bad for their teeth, like carbohydrates. They may know sugar is bad, but they don’t know crackers are, too.”
    After learning how to take care of their teeth, the students are screened.
    On a follow-up visit, those who have parents’ permission for treatment can get X-rays, cleaning, fluroride treatment and more education.
    Kids who are in obvious pain from more serious problems can be referred, with parent’s permission, for work in a dental office.
    Gehring herself suffered through severe dental problems in her youth.
    “Cavities, like you wouldn’t believe,” she says. “I remember lying in bed crying because of the pain. And of course, then, my mom’s advice was to just hold an aspirin on it. Now we know that’s the worst thing to do.”
    Page 2 of 2 - She also remembers her older sister having to take time off from high school to take her to dental appointments since her parents couldn’t leave work.
    That’s typical for families who rely on Medicaid, she said, and it’s one reason what the TMC dentists are doing  – and what they want to do next – is important.
    A mobile unit, they say, would let them do more and do it more quickly. No more setting up and tearing down limited equipment in nooks and crannies of schools. A van, about the size of a large RV, would contain a reception area, exam chairs, X-ray equipment and a lab.
    The prospect of raising $500,000 to buy and equip such a vehicle is huge. But the TMC-Lakewood Auxiliary is stepping in to get the fundraising effort started.
    On Aug. 25, the auxiliary’s annual Evening Under the Stars fundraiser will be all about kids’ dental care with a South Beach themed night of dinner and music. (see sidebar).
    In its first year, the TMC in-school program saw more than 2,000 students, said Nancy Lewis, the school district’s public relation director and co-chair of the fundraiser. 
    “They... created a model program that while being very successful, showed us that we were just hitting the tip of the iceberg regarding dental issues among our students,” Lewis said. “Bright Smiles, Bright Futures will expand the program to meet that need.”
     

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