Free Dental Care for 'Falls' Kids

By KBJR News 1

October 15, 2010 Updated Oct 19, 2010 at 10:57 AM CDT

INTERNATIONAL FALLS, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Little Kaylie Graves is getting her teeth cleaned for the second time ever.

Fluoride treatment included, the service is completely free -- and if you ask her mom -- that's the most important part.

"Oh, it's just not in the budget," said mom Jaimie, explaining her family's shrinking pocketbook.

The Graves are like many families in Northern Minnesota who face a number of challenges when it comes to providing basic dental care to their children.

However, thanks to a special program called 'Smiles Across Minnesota' those challenges could disappear.

"This community in Northern Minnesota has been one of the hardest hit by the recession," explains program partner Sarah Wovcha from Minneapolis-based Childrens' Dental Services.

"The paper mills have really been having a hard time; and more than 50 percent of the children in the schools are eligible for free and reduced lunch, which lets us know that they're probably having a difficult time getting access to dental care."

However, here in Northern Minnesota, financial barriers aren't the only cavity-caveats when it comes to healthy teeth.

According to Koochiching County Superintendent Bob Janzczak, distance traveled to the dentist office is often another roadblock for families.

"It's going to be huge, I believe, because instead of having to set up appointments in town which may be 30 - 40 miles away for some of them, the program will be in the school," Janzczak said, adding that some kids are troubled by oral health problems that can simply be traced to missed checkups.

With knowledge of that information, neighboring schools in International Falls, the Rainy River area, and Little Fork have joined with Koochiching County as the latest community to offer free checkups for kids ages 3 - 18 under the 'Smiles Across Minnesota Program.'

Representatives from sponsoring organizations Delta Dental, The United Way, and Oral Health America unveiled the partnership on Friday morning at Falls Elementary.

Right way, six lucky kids took advantage of the free teeth cleaning as well, including little Kaylie.

However, organizers stress that many more are able to be served - up to 1,000 - and encourage parents to check with teachers and sign a basic consent form.

Written for the web by Matt Standal