Mobile pediatric dental clinic opens in Northwest Georgia

Contributed photo by Sandy Matheson / Dental hygienist Karen Irvin prepares to do a dental cleaning for one of the new Primary Healthcare Center mobile dental clinic's first patients.

On its first day in operation in early March, a new pediatric mobile dental clinic saw 16 children at Rossville Elementary School.

The care ranged from routine cleanings to fillings.

For some, it was the first time they had ever visited a dentist.

The clinic is an outreach by Primary Healthcare Centers, a nonprofit organization providing free and low-cost medical and dental services throughout Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Gordon, Polk and Walker counties. A key part of its mission is offering accessible care, providing support for children and adults with or without insurance.

This clinic joins PHC's two school-based medical clinics in the area. Those clinics, located at Gilbert Elementary in LaFayette and Tiger Creek Elementary in Tunnel Hill, offer comprehensive care including general dentistry for students, parents, teachers and the community.

The new mobile dental unit has been in the works for a few years, said Sandy Matheson, the program's development officer.

About three months ago, PHC reached out to Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines looking for a spot to build out the trailer, which features two dental stations inside. They chose Rossville Elementary for the first dental clinic because the school has the highest percentage of children on free and reduced-price lunch in the district, said Raines.

"We're focused on giving children a positive experience," Matheson said, noting that if a child has a negative experience at the dentist, that can lead to not going in the future.

The clinic will provide regular dental care to children across the district, moving to different schools and locations based on need. It has capabilities for cleanings, screenings, fillings, extractions and oral surgery for children up to age 18.

Matheson said dental care is one of those things that, "We sometimes take for granted when we can afford it." Many people don't go to the dentist unless they have a toothache or there's physically something amiss, she said, so teaching preventive care is important at a young age.

"So many of our families and community members struggle with accessibility," she added. "A lot of parents drive long distances for providers that take Medicaid or PeachCare for children's dental."

Having the school-based clinic at Gilbert has been important in curbing absences, said Raines. Instead of students missing school for an all-day trip to the doctor and pulling caretakers out of work, they can have the care right on campus.

Matheson said PHC will work with school principals to schedule dates for the mobile dental clinic to visit their school. Parents and guardians will be provided information packets to review and consent to care, and then appointments will be scheduled.

Until a set schedule can be established, Matheson said they will be working on a Mobile Monday and summer schedule that will be open to children throughout Northwest Georgia.

"Nothing's worse than having a toothache and trying to learn," said Raines. "[Primary Healthcare] fulfilled a great need here."

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