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The Ohio State University
College of Dentistry Mobile Dental "Bus"
Brings dental office to kids
A group of fifth-graders filed into a bus in front of Weinland Park Elementary School yesterday, but they weren't going home for the day.
They were seeing a dentist, some of them for the first time.
Thanks to a new $450,000 grant, the Ohio State University bus will continue to take free dental care to children who otherwise couldn't afford it. The grant, from the Delta Dental Foundation, was announced yesterday.
In 5,400 visits since the 40-foot bus began going to Columbus schools in 2005, it has provided about 17,000 procedures, said Canise Bean, director of the OHIO Project, the office at Ohio State that oversees the program.
Ashley Jones, a 10-year-old who attends Weinland Park, had her second trip onto the Health Outreach Mobile Experience bus yesterday.
Last year, a dentist pulled one of her teeth, Ashley said. This time, she got a cleaning and a note telling her mother that the dentist intends to fill a cavity the next time the bus pulls through.
If there were no money to support the bus, some students might never get dental care, Bean said.
"In the scheme of things, it's often not a priority when you put it against whether or not you eat or whether or not you have the lights on in the house," she said.
About 670,000 Ohio children -- 23 percent of those in the state -- are not covered by dental insurance, according to the Ohio Board of Health. In Franklin County, 21 percent of children do not have dental coverage.
Before the bus goes to a school, school nurses send notices home with students. Parents must sign a permission slip for their child to get care.
Sometimes in a 500-student school, only 25 slips come back signed, said Kevin Levings, the program's coordinator.
Dentists and dental students see their patients for an initial checkup and develop a treatment plan, which can include crowns, fillings and pulling teeth.
The coach costs about $370,000 a year to operate, Bean said. The College of Dentistry kicks in about $250,000 a year to supplement outside grants.
A $658,000 grant from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation helped fund the program for three years, but the last installment arrived in January 2007. The coach has been operating with college support since then.
Bean said the public needs better education about dental care.
"People don't realize that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body," said Mike Clark, president of Delta Dental of Ohio.
Delta Dental contracts with the state of Michigan on a program to give kids free dental insurance.
The Ohio Dental Association has used that as a model for suggesting change to state legislators.
Bean would like to see dentists take more responsibility by accepting Medicaid patients and taking care to those in need.
As for Ashley, she emerged from the bus smiling and pointing to her clean teeth.
She's still scared of the dentist, she said, but she'll continue to brush her teeth twice a day.
"My mom says I have to."
BY RICK ROUAN
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH