Second-graders in Hillsborough County received preventive dental care in recent months as part of a new program.
Two mobile dental vans have visited eight elementary schools since November. Plans call for adding eight more schools when the program resumes in the fall.
"Dental disease is the No. 1 childhood disease, and it's 100 percent preventable," said Kim Herremans, community dental health coordinator with the Florida Department of Health — Hillsborough County.
The Department of Health, the county school system, Tampa Family Health Centers, Suncoast Community Health Centers and MORE Health Inc. sponsored the program.
During a stop Monday at Plant City's Bryan Elementary School, Suncoast dental director Randy Valdez said each child is examined one day and, if needed, treated the next, with their parents' permission.
The dentists look at overall dental health, including cavities and preventing them, he said.
The care includes the application of dental sealants, a thin plastic sheet that protects children's teeth for five to 10 years, Herremans said. The schools selected for the program are Title 1 schools with high enrollments of students who receive free or reduced-cost lunches.
"There is a large need in Hillsborough County and in the state for dental care," she said.
The vans also visited Cork, Gibsonton, Mort, Ruskin, Shaw, Sulphur Springs and Witter elementary schools.
The children also received booklets and classroom instruction on dental care, Herremanns said. The program also reaches out to parents, she said.
Second-graders are targeted because children get their first permanent teeth when they are 7 or 8 years old, Herremans said. Also, that's the age when dental care habits are formed, she said.
Poor dental health can lead to a myriad problems, including infections, pain that can cause school absences and impaired speech development, the Department of Health reported.
The program bills private insurance or Medicaid for children who are covered.
A $184,000 federal grant pays for treatment of children not covered by insurance or Medicaid.