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Dentists to provide free dental screenings for students

Posted: December 20, 2012 5:40 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County dentists will continue their long-standing relationship with Kershaw County School District (KCSD) by providing dental screenings for elementary school students in K5 to-fifth-grade beginning in January.

Each elementary school will have a scheduled visit from their sponsoring dentist throughout the upcoming spring semester.

In the mid-1970s dentists in the area recognized there was no dental assistance for students who didn’t qualify for social programs and were not able to find quality dental care due to finances. That realization brought Dr. Kenneth Carson and other area dentists to take students referrals via school nurses for $2 on Saturdays.

Fellow dentist William J. Biggins said that about one quarter of Americans never see a dentist and one quarter only go when they feel like the have a problem. The other half of the population goes at least one a year to the recommended twice a year.

The Junior Welfare League has helped provide monetary needs for students who needed to see a dentist throughout the years, Biggins said.

For 10 years, participating dentists saw students at what is now KershawHealth. After finding that space “inefficient,” they began seeing students in their various offices throughout the county. In 2000, the S.C. Dental Association persuaded South Carolina dentists to join or re-join Medicaid. Participation in Medicaid made “access to dental care easier,” although people receiving Medicaid don’t always fully utilize the available dental services, Biggins said.

In 2001, Kershaw County dentists expanded their reach by sponsoring visual screenings for local elementary school students during the school day.

Carson said he and other local dentists promote oral hygiene as much as possible with the district’s assistance. They perform screenings -- as opposed to comprehensive checkups -- to look for any obvious problems. Biggins said it is important to get young children off to a good start because baby teeth hold the place of adult teeth and help form the face. Neglect of baby teeth can cause joint and jaw issues later.

There are currently about 20 dentists providing assistance to elementary schools throughout Kershaw County. Those dentists not only provide screenings, but do informative sessions on oral hygiene, provide for any emergency needs, and can help facilitate long-term care for students in need. Participating dentists can also refer students to other professionals such as orthodontic specialists.

Aiken is the only other county in South Carolina that provides services similar to the ones in Kershaw County, Carson said.

“The combined efforts of the local dentists and school nurses have improved the dental care of our students and has most certainly reduced pain, suffering and absenteeism,” Carson said in a letter addressed to school district nurses and participating dentists.

KCSD’s lead nurse, Sharon Baytes, said the partnership the district has with local dentists is invaluable because good oral health care is important. Baytes said the district is pleased to be able to offer students the opportunity to get their teeth checked, in addition to the other screenings the district provides, including vision, hearing and blood pressure.

“We have a great network of dentists,” she said. “Each dentists is wonderful for working with their assigned school and identifying students with urgent needs. We are very blessed to have them.”

Students who have Medicaid can easily find care through the help of the dentists, Baytes said. Through the partnership, the district and local dentists can help determine if students who are not seeing a dentist regularly are eligible for Medicaid. Students of families who do not qualify might also find help through the Community Medical Clinic of Kershaw County or AccessHealth through KershawHealth, Carson said. Some of the same local dentists who help the school district provide services for community members of all ages through the clinic, located on East DeKalb Street, behind the United Way office.

In general, good oral hygiene for children would include limiting sugar in all forms from their diet; brushing twice a day and flossing at least once each day are important habits. Carson recommended students only drink water after they brush for bedtime instead of grabbing sugary drinks that leave sugar on their teeth overnight.

Baytes said he and his fellow dentists normally screen students’ teeth in the fall semester, but this year’s screenings will begin when students return from winter break. The district will send out notifications for the screening and students who are allowed to opt out with parent permission. All participating students will be sent home with a screening report.


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