TACOMA – Students at Holy Rosary Bilingual Academy are smiling a little bigger since they had the chance to visit the dentist … at school.
For the third year, Holy Rosary students recently received free or low-cost dental screenings, fluoride treatments, and sealants from dentists and dental assistants working with a dental outreach program in Mukilteo. Students may receive referrals to local dentists for more serious issues like cavities.
“For many of our families, it’s a way to make sure dental care is taken care of and an opportunity to learn more about hygiene,” said Katie Dempsey, Holy Rosary’s principal.
Part of the school’s mission is serving and reaching out to all families regardless of financial ability, which means some of the school’s 200 students might not have access to regular dental care, Dempsey explained.
To address that need, in 2017 the school began hosting “dental day.” The day is even beneficial for those who have dental insurance, Dempsey said. “Families are pulled in so many directions [and] their time is limited. This way they can check off one of those items at school,” she said.
This year 63 students participated during the March 18 event; 75 participated in 2018 and 55 in 2017, according to Berenice Williams, Holy Rosary’s office manager.
Those numbers are gratifying for Mary Jane Long, a retired nurse and member of Holy Rosary Parish who volunteers at the school, who observed that many of the students she worked with needed help with dental hygiene.
“Teachers are so busy, they may have not even noticed,” Long said. “I planted the seed and others picked up on the idea.”
Addison Bryan, left, Jackson Brodt and Abigail Wingert show off their smiles after participating in “dental day” at Holy Rosary Bilingual Academy in Tacoma. Each student receives dental screenings, education and a goody bag of dental hygiene products. Photo: Sarah McKinney
Positive peer pressure
On dental day, each grade at Holy Rosary is assigned a class period in which students whose parents have filled out the permission form head over to the school lunchroom where the program is set up.
Dempsey said students who see their friends participating — and ending up with a goody bag of dental hygiene items that include a toothbrush and toothpaste — often wish they had signed up, too.
Jessica Jordan said she remembers her son Rowan coming home from preschool the first year the dental day was offered and telling her, “Mom, I’m the only one in my class who didn’t go.”
Since the family sees a dentist regularly, Jordan didn’t think it was necessary for Rowan to participate at school. But she signed both her sons up this year after she saw it was a way to reinforce good habits, and to stay on top of their dental care.
Now the kids remind her, “Mom, we have to brush and floss our teeth twice a day,” she said.
For younger kids, like her preschooler Bruce, it’s all about education, Jordan said. The dentists at dental day look over the child’s mouth and talk about brushing and flossing. “Bruce was so excited that they counted his teeth,” she said.
As part of their Catholic education, it’s important that Holy Rosary students learn to take good care of their bodies, Dempsey said. “Modeling that behavior at school is invaluable,” she said.
It just makes sense, Long said, to offer a dental hygiene program at school.
“I’m happy there are people out there who will take care of kids and teach them the right things to do to stay healthy,” she said.