SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 6, 2013

Open wide: Teeth cleanings offered in Salem public schools

By Bethany Bray
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — Students in all 10 of the city’s public schools will have the opportunity to have their teeth cleaned during school hours this winter.

A mobile team of dental hygienists will visit each school through February and March to do cleanings, sealants and fluoride treatments.

School health personnel say it’s a win-win.

“It’s an attempt to reach out to children who might not be getting ongoing, regular preventative care,” said Paula Dobrow, director of nursing and health services for the Salem schools. “... It’s an opportunity for the schools to promote good health in a way they haven’t done traditionally.”

Cleanings will be done by hygienists from Polished, a Brewster-based agency that sends mobile teeth-cleaning units all over Massachusetts. They bring everything they need, from lighting to chairs.

The cleanings are voluntary; parents must sign permission slips for their children to participate. The hygienists offer cleanings only; if a cavity or other problem is found, the student will be referred to a local dentist.

It’s something that is needed, Dobrow said. She has seen children come to the school nurse’s office with rotting or missing teeth, even at young ages.

“There are a number of children that have very bad dental health,” she said. “... (This) will benefit their learning. There’s nothing worse than having a toothache and having nothing for it. If we can prevent that in any way, it’s a benefit.”

Polished will spend one or two days at each school, including Salem Community Charter School, through February and March. They started at Witchcraft Heights this week.

Ellen Gould, a Peabody resident, hygienist and managing partner of Polished, says the service reaches students who don’t have their teeth cleaned regularly, for a variety of reasons — from financial to scheduling.

“It can make a huge difference,” said Gould. “People take advantage (of the cleanings) because everyone’s time is so stretched. ... In all communities, you have a lot of parents working. It’s just a nice thing for them to take advantage of.”

Polished does not bill patients, but does charge their insurance. If a patient does not have dental insurance, Polished “absorbs” the cost through a nonprofit arm of the organization and provides the service for free, Gould said.

Polished’s nonprofit accepts donations and grants to cover costs, Gould said.

The Salem School Committee approved having Polished visit city schools this winter as a pilot program. If it’s a success, and a lot of families respond, Dobrow said she’ll ask to have the program back next year.

Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.