LACEY – Dr. Chris Delecki would like to see kids in his dental chair as soon as they have teeth. But for low-income families, getting their children to the dentist at any age is a challenge of time and money.
“They are kind of falling through the cracks,” said Delecki, a dentist who works for Children’s Hospital in Seattle. He was waiting for patients Tuesday aboard the Smile- Mobile, a three-chair dental clinic program through the Washington Dental Service Foundation that parked at Lydia Hawk Elementary School.
Since last week, the SmileMobile has served more than 90 children on a sliding-fee scale and helped educate them and their families about healthy mouths. The clinic will be in Lacey through Friday morning. Treatment is funded by the Washington Dental Service.
One of those children getting a checkup was 16-month-old Julian Casimiro. Through some screaming and tears, Delecki checked out Julian’s teeth and chatted with his mother, Janira Avila.
Delecki stressed that Julian should keep away from sugary drinks to stop tooth decay.
“Try to really encourage water use,” he told Avila.
Two chairs down, Avila’s brother Antonio Gonzalez, 13, was prepped for sealants and a minor filling before anxiety got the best of him. Avila is one of eight children in her family and said her siblings use the SmileMobile’s services.
“It’s kind of hard to get everyone in,” she said. “Just the fact that they can get them all in, it’s really nice.”
Many of the people who take advantage of the SmileMobile don’t have a consistent dentist, so visits can be uncomfortable, Delecki said.
Sealing baby teeth might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a practice that could have long-term effects, Delecki said.
“It’s not heart surgery, but you make a big difference in the children’s overall health.”
Nearly 60 percent of elementary school children in Washington have had dental decay. Two-year olds in Washington are more than twice as likely as children nationwide to have dental decay, according to the foundation.
This is the second time this year the SmileMobile has visited Lacey, a reality that reflects the need of the community, said Monika Foro, site coordinator for the Washington Dental Service Foundation.
Trips through Lacey and Yelm earlier this year brought out about 200 children, she said.
Foro said one reason for the higher need is that she thinks the county has a large migrant population that needs services. The program also links up with North Thurston Public Schools to contact low-income children and others who need help.
The SmileMobile plans to be back in Lacey in January or February of next year.