Knoxville program gives students healthy teeth

By  | 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A trip to the dentist can be easily brushed aside, but many people don't realize how important a healthy mouth is for learning.

"If you change a child's smile, you change a child's life," said Tim Rogers, the Vice President of the Elgin Children's Foundation.

As the school year begins, many Knox County Community Schools will have access to free dental care with the permission of a parent. The program first began at the Green Magnet Academy last year, and it is expanding to ten other schools.

"We are coming to the schools and screening to try and get that taken care of so these children can learn and be healthy," said Sherrie Williams, a dental assistant for Western Heights Dental.

The Great Schools Partnership teamed up with the Elgin Children's Foundation and Western Heights Dental to make this happen. Partners like Western Heights Dental will come to the school to provide screenings. If a student needs a follow-up, the organizations will work with the schools to provide transportation to the dentist.

Not everyone can afford a trip to the dentist.

"There are a lot of kids who qualify for dental care and who just never end up in a dental office," said Rogers.

A program like this allows children to get the dental care they need to get a healthy mouth.

"This really makes it accessible and removes some barriers for kids to have access to dental care, whether that's transportation, billing or financial barriers," said Stephanie Welch, the Vice President of Operations for Great Schools Partnership.

The need for affordable dental care is great in Knoxville.

"Last year when we did screenings with the children, we had children that started coming in. If you just looked at their mouths, you wouldn't think there was anything wrong," said Williams. "We had children with one, two, three, four, five abscessed teeth."

This actually makes it very difficult for a student to succeed in school.

"When kids are showing up in their classroom with pain in their mouths, whether that's due to serious dental issues or chronic dental issues because they never had access to dental care," said Welch. "They can have behavioral problems, they can be embarrased even about speaking out in class. It can be disruptive for that child's life."

As the program expands, they are still looking to partner with more dental practices to help provide care to the other Knox County Schools.