By Katie Murdoch For The Herald
LYNNWOOD — Before last week, 12-year-old Kateara Utley had a phobia about going to the dentist.
After two visits with SmileMobile staff and volunteers, Kateara, a sixth-grader at Meadowdale Elementary School, has changed her outlook even after her teeth were pulled.
“They were really nice,” she said of the SmileMobile staff.
The SmileMobile program is funded through the Washington Dental Service Foundation, a nonprofit agency whose mission is to eliminate oral disease and improve overall health.
This dental office on wheels brings oral health care to students whose families struggle to provide their children with adequate dental care.
The program targets low-income areas with the least access to dental care and connects with the community and schools, clinic manager Rhonda Mannen said.
Families who don’t qualify for state assistance but don’t have insurance can fall through the cracks, Mannen said.
“If children don’t have good oral health care, it affects their overall health,” Mannen said.
If they can teach kids at a young age how to brush properly and to floss, it can prevent damage in the future. Some of the high-schoolers Mannen has treated showed signs of tooth decay.
SmileMobile parked at Cedar Valley Community School in Lynnwood earlier this month. In less than two weeks, they treated approximately 60 children. Local dentists, including Dr. Priscilla Wig and Dr. Ronald Cantu, volunteered to treat students, stepping in as host dentists.
Kateara’s father, Gerald Utley, said growing up he didn’t have access to dental care. He was grateful the staff’s demeanor eased his daughter’s fear of going to the dentist. During her visit, instead of talking about pulling teeth they used the less threatening term “wiggle out” and distracted her by seeing if she could count to 100 before her tooth was removed.
The SmileMoblie began working with the Edmonds School District in the 1990s. Initially, students who had no access to dental care qualified for the program. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can get dental care from SmileMobile.
The first visit with the SmileMobile connects families with local dental providers and provides information about Medicaid, said Nancy Sutherland, the district’s head nurse.
“SmileMobile staff is dedicated, hard working and they persevere,” she said.