Dental project comes to St. Theresa School

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If you ask an elementary school student what he did in school today, you might expect a short monologue of school subjects and assignments, maybe even a recap of recess. But if the student is from St. Theresa School in Ashburn, he might follow the story with, "And I got a cavity filled today."

This year, St Theresa became the first diocesan school to offer dental examinations as part of the Oral Health Impact Project, a Pennsylvania-based organization that brings dentists to schools.

"Our goal is to change a generation of kids' experience with dental health so they can keep their teeth for their lifetime," said Dr. Lawrence Caplin, founder and CEO of OHIP. He was asked to start the program in 2006 by the Philadelphia school district, and since then the program has been active in both public and private schools in Washington, Baltimore, Richmond and towns in West Virginia.

St. Theresa's school nurse, Karen Stalling, had only good things to say about her time with the program.

"It met and exceeded my expectations," said Stalling. "They had a dental chair brought in and a wheeled cart with all the tools they needed to do x-rays, cleanings and sealants. All we needed to provide them was space and a water source."

During their day at the school, Dr. Robert Cruz and his assistant saw about a dozen kids, whose parents had signed consent forms.

"The focus is to make a positive experience for the child," said Caplin. "If that happens, we know that we will be able to see that child again in the future."

According to Caplin, dental disease is the most common childhood disease worldwide, and more children end up in hospitals due to dental disease than asthma. "It is 100 percent preventable," said Caplin.

As far as cost, no payment is required for a child to be seen by the dentist. "If they have insurance, we accept that, but if they don't, we still provide them care," said Caplin. "Usually if they don't have anything they are eligible for some financial assistance, and if not, we will work something out with them."

Now that OHIP has been approved by the Arlington Diocese, they hope to visit more diocesan schools this year.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015