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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Dental Clinic Gives Kids Smiles

Free exams are available Feb. 5-6.

2015-02-06
Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press, 2-6-2015

Adrian Gonzalez’s toes tapped together slightly, squeaking as they moved across the blue vinyl dentist’s chair, quivering in the frantic, hurried motions so characteristic of a nervous 4-yearold.

“He’s never been to the dentist before,” his mother Maria Gonzalez said, standing near the chair and smiling at him reassuringly. “He just started preschool, so he needed all his medical and dental appointments.”

She had driven to Mankato from Fairmont, almost an hour away, so Adrian could have his teeth examined, she said. As part of the Give Kids a Smile Program, the Minnesota State University, Mankato dental clinic performed X-rays, cleanings, fluoride treatments and applied sealants for free Thursday afternoon.

“It’s really nice,” Maria Gonzalez said. Before her son’s preschool provider told her about the clinic, she didn’t even know it existed. “I thought it was weird because it’s a school. I didn’t know they had a clinic. But it’s nice knowing that they do.”

Dental hygiene students from Minnesota State Mankato perform many or the services, overseen by department faculty and staff. Volunteer dentists such as Pat O’Brien perform examinations.

Before retiring, he served as a dentist in St. Peter for more than 40 years.

“I’m giving back to dentistry a bit,” he said.

Teaching kids about good oral hygiene is a noble occupation, he said. Adolescent children need to know how important it is to brush and floss their teeth.

“At this age, we’re making them aware of things,” he said. “Early detection is best. Also when we see them it’s kind of a check-in for the family. Maybe we should worry about their diet. Maybe we should watch the sweets.”

Dental hygiene student Jenna Sylvester said sealants are also important.

They can help guard against tooth decay.

Working with children isn’t something the Minnesota State Mankato senior gets to do every day.

She and her fellow students see about three patients a week, but most of them are adults. The Give Kids a Smile program lets them practice and build a completely different set of skills, ones they’ll need to succeed professionally.

Which is important to Sylvester, who has wanted to go into dentistry since she was a kid herself.

“I wanted to be a dentist since I was young and no one else did,” she said. “I had a Mr. Potato Head with play dough teeth and pretended to be a dentist.”

The free clinic itself appeals to parents who couldn’t typically afford dental care for their kids, said Terri Brown, a faculty member with the College of Allied Health and Nursing.

In private practice, a full dental checkup would cost more than $200.

Linda Osborne of New Ulm said she can’t afford that. With nine kids and no dental insurance, it’d be expensive to bring them all in for annual appointments. Not only that, but it’s a rare dental clinic that could see all her kids at once. On Thursday, her six youngest children, aged 7 to 17, all sat in Minnesota State Mankato dental chairs at the same time, getting their teeth checked out.

“I love that they can all get in at the same time,” Osborne said. “They get all the necessary things done for the year and if they need extra appointments, I can schedule them right away.

It doesn’t cost a lot to get a cavity filled.”

Adrian Gonzalez, still wiggling in the dentist’s chair, didn’t have any cavities fortunately. Minnesota State Mankato student Kelsey Hoek talked to him while she looked at his molars, complimenting on his oral hygiene skills.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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