A.T. Still University staff, students provide dental care at local schools

From left, Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson of Apache Junction Unified School District; Danielle Matter, 2019 A.T. Still University doctor of dental medicine candidate; Yvette Thornton, registered dental hygienist at A.T. Still University; Heather A. Johnson, registered dental hygienist at A.T. Still University; Michael Rosen, 2019 A.T. Still University doctor of dental medicine candidate; Tamarra Kalamchi, 2019 A.T. Still University doctor of dental medicine candidate; Tammy Tomasetti, school nurse at Cactus Canyon Junior High School; and Heather Wallace, director of educational services for AJUSD. (Photo by Richard H. Dyer, Independent Newsmedia)

The teeth and gums of youngsters in Apache Junction Unified School District have been studied and treated for seven years by dental students and staff from A.T. Still University.

An award was recently presented to two from ATSU to thank them for the free services.

The school-based program provides portable preventive dentistry and serves as an internal clinical rotation for third-year students at ATSU Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, 5855 E. Still Circle in Mesa.

“We’ve been at AJ schools or partnered with the schools for seven years. We’re pretty proud of that,” said Heather A. Johnson, registered dental hygienist and a full-time faculty member at A.T. Still University.

Resources and funding for the program are provided primarily by Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation and National Children’s Oral Health Foundation, according to https://www.atsu.edu/asdoh.

“Our goal for the program is to provide dental preventative services at your schools,” Ms. Johnson said, adding that it is for students at Four Peaks, Desert Vista and Peralta Trail elementary schools and Cactus Canyon Junior High School.

“Our goal is for everybody to have a healthy mouth and healthy gums. We don’t always see that,” she said. “Dental decay is the No. 1 chronic disease in Arizona and in children.”

Students have trouble learning in the classroom if they have chronic dental-decay pain, she said.

“If a child has dental decay, they’re not learning. They’re sad, they’re withdrawn, they have low self-esteem. Sometimes you think a child is a problem child or they’re the kid who gives you a lot of issues in class and a lot of times it’s because these kids have chronic dental pain,” Ms. Johnson said.

Dental sealants, fluoride varnish treatments, oral screenings, oral health education and referrals are provided.

A sealant is a plastic coating that goes on the top of the tooth in the grooves and pits, Yvette Thornton, a registered dental hygienist and ATSU full-time faculty member, said.

“It prevents cavities,” she said. “It’s like painting nail polish on your finger. There’s no drills and your tooth doesn’t have to go to sleep. It’s really easy.”

Students and staff wheel in the equipment for two days and provide the sealant services, she said.

A fluoride varnish is painted on the teeth, she said.

“It stays on the teeth for seven to 10 days providing prevention or re-mineralizing teeth that might be breaking down to a cavity,” Ms. Thornton said.

The dental work is done in school nursing offices, on the stage, in conference rooms and classrooms, she said.

Parents must sign a consent form for the students to receive services, she said.

A.T. Still University also offers a “Give Kids a Smile Day” for 300 students to go to the Mesa campus where additional dental work can be done, Tamarra Kalamchi, a 2019 ATSU doctor of dental medicine candidate, said.

“We’re able to provide dental services to these kids in under-served communities. This is where the whole school works together – dental students, alumni, volunteers. We all come together and help make this event happen,” she said.

Services include cleanings, sealants and extractions, she said.

A total of 1,042 children have been helped with the sealant program since 2011, Michael Rosen, 2019 A.T. Still University doctor of dental medicine candidate, said.

“We’ve sealed almost 5,000 teeth,” he said. “We’ve provided, just in the sealant program, which is preventative care, since 2011, we’ve provided over $400,000 worth of care for your children. This is just this district,” Mr. Rosen said.

The “Give Kids a Smile Day” events held since 2014 have provided $225,000 in services, he said.

“We want all of the students in this district to be having overall healthy oral habits,” Danielle Matter, 2019 A.T. Still University doctor of dental medicine candidate, said.

“We want to make sure that they are leaving here with no decay and able to focus and learn,” she said,

“We’re making a difference and we’re just really thrilled to be partnered with Apache Junction Unified School District,” Ms. Thornton said.

Tammy Tomasetti, school nurse at Cactus Canyon Junior High School, gave the ATSU staff members a plaque at the March 27 AJUSD Governing Board meeting to thank them for their work.

“Any time I need them to come in and talk about dental hygiene or any event that we have, they (are) ‘OK. No problem, what’s the date? What time?’ Always there to help our district,” Ms. Tomasetti said.

Editor Richard Dyer can be reached at rdyer@newszap.com

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