UC Smiles: Program offers local kids free dental services while introducing them to college life - Insider

BLUE ASH, Ohio It's safe to say most teenagers don't go on a field trip expecting to get a cavity filled. But Aaron Herring, a junior at Hughes STEM High School, was public dentistry awfully good sport about it.

Aaron, 17, was one of several dozen Hughes students who visited University of Cincinnati's Blue Ash College campus Oct. 30 for as program known as UC Smiles.

As part of UC Smiles, second-year students in the dental hygiene program at UC Blue Ash cleaned and polished the students' teeth and looked for signs of decay. Students got dental x-rays, and those who needed fillings were hustled back to Dr. Julie Swayne, a Loveland dentist who volunteered to help out as part of the program.

Aaron said his mom takes him to the dentist twice a year. The last time he went, his dentist warned him he would probably need a filling, Aaron said. He wasn't too worried about the procedure, though.

"They make you feel better," he said.

Aaron Herring, left, listens to UC dental hygiene student Taylor Gierach.

The UC Smiles program started in 2010, the first year Cady Short-Thompson was dean of UC Blue Ash College. Until Short-Thompson launched UC Smiles, dental hygiene students brought their parents, friends or significant others to serve as patients so they could get practice cleaning teeth. Short-Thompson suggested the college reach out to schools whose students might not get regular dental care, and the program was born.

Cady Short-Thompson

This year for the first time, UC Smiles also is offering restorative care for students who need it. That means kids like Aaron can get fillings right on the spot instead of asking their moms or dads to make follow-up appointments with their dentists to deal with problems identified by the dental hygiene students. Earlier in October, dentists on hand did four different extractions because students had such serious decay, Short-Thompson said.

"The biggest thing over the years that we've learned is the hygiene, the cleaning, the care that was done just wasn't enough," she said. "About a third of the students would leave without some pretty significant needs met."

The program doesn't have specific income guidelines for the students that it treats. But UC Blue Ash reaches out to elementary, middle and high schools with a high percentage of students who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, Short-Thompson said. The program has treated a total of 1,159 students since it began, she said.

Anthony Cook

"The need is great," said Anthony Cook, CEO of The Dental Care Plus Group, which has been a sponsor of the program from the start. "The rate of absenteeism is very high, and one of the chief issues for that is oral health issues. We think that reaching children at the early ages is a good thing."

To learn more about UC Smiles, click here or go to http://www.ucblueash.edu/about/community/smiles.html.

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