At schools, volunteers grant free dental work

By Emily Thornton / The (Coos Bay) World

Published Jan 10, 2014 at 12:06AM

MYRTLE POINT — Two students, purple-stained mouths giggling, sit opposite Cecilee Shull as she describes how they should brush their teeth.

The stain isn’t permanent. It just tells her where they have the most plaque — where they’ve neglected to brush.

She then demonstrates how much sugar is in one can of soda. They should avoid it, she tells them.

In another corner of the makeshift dentist office — normally the school’s conference room — is a dentist’s chair with another student. She’s getting sealants put on her teeth to guard against cavities.

Dental health greatly affects their overall health, said Shull.

She is program manager for Ready to Smile. The program, now in its fourth year, has gained statewide recognition.

“It’s a model program,” said Melissa Freeman, director of strategic planning at the Oregon Community Foundation, which donated $500,000 to the cause. “It’s a comprehensive dental program that is a model in Oregon. They’re all over the state. What’s unique is the number of volunteers involved with fundraising and getting it started.”

Some kids actually enjoy getting the dental work, especially those who live in Myrtle Point, where there is just one dentist. Other places, like Powers and Port Orford, have no dentists, Shull said.

“It’s better than driving all the way to Bandon, like we usually do,” said Jarrod Canaday, a seventh-grader at Myrtle Point High School. He also said, “It’s better than class.”

Dental hygienist Erica Myers and dental assistant Christy Richardson gave Canaday $715 worth of services, including 16 sealants and an exam, for free. Myers works at Advantage Dental Clinic, which pays for her to work with the program two or three days a week. Richardson divides her time between Smile and the School Dental Sealant Program, which provides sealants for free.

Shull said Myrtle Point students usually get more sealants, because there’s no fluoride in the water.

Kendra Black, also in seventh grade, received $412 in services. She vowed she would brush her teeth more following the exam.

“It affects the overall health of the kids,” Richardson said. “Every kid deserves to be healthy.”

It takes Shull and her assistants an hour and a half to set up their makeshift dental office in each school. She said they’ve been in hallways, conference rooms and lunchrooms.

“We make do wherever they put us,” Shull said.

Ready to Smile began when area leaders realized there was a need to improve youngsters’ dental health, Shull said. Commissioner John Sweet was instrumental in the program’s success, she said.

Entities that contributed to Ready to Smile from the start include the Ford Family Foundation, the Curry Health Foundation and the Mudd Family Foundation, Freeman said.

The program helped 1,964 children, totaling $530,893 in services during the 2012-2013 school year, said Shull. The program has provided at least $201,904 in services so far this school year for 511 students.

The nonprofit program depends on donations and government aid to provide services. South Coast school districts donated $40,000 this fall. The Campbell Group gave $4,000. The Mildred E. and Harvey S. Mudd Foundation donated $30,000 in a matching grant.

Shull said it was important it become a sustainable program. It still has $480,000 from OCF, but needs to have fundraisers, so it doesn’t have to draw from those funds.

“We’ve been trying to not pull money out to get it to grow,” Freeman said. “We’ll have to fundraise like crazy for the next few years.”

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