MANATEE -- Since 2009, Manatee Technical Institute dental assistant students and local dentists have teamed up to provide free service to children who can't afford dental care.
The We Care Dental Project allows 30 students enrolled in the county school district to receive X-rays, fluoride polish and other procedures. The clinic is offered four times a year and the stu
dents are selected by county school nurses.
Students range from age 6 to seniors in high school. Any student under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a parent.
The clinic also serves as a SkillsUSA/Health Occupations Students of America project for the MTI students.
On Friday, 25 dental students and two local professional dentists will operate the clinic at MTI's Lakewood Ranch campus from 9 a.m.- noon.
The clinic provides hands-on training for the dental students, program coordinator Kim Bland said
"This is a service learning project for them," she said. "They operate on mannikins and each other sometimes, but this is their first opportunity to interact with a real patient and get on-the-job training."
Students also visit first-grade classrooms around the county to spread dental care awareness, Bland said.
Some of the students involved in the free clinic have already showed signs of poor dental care, Bland said.
"For a lot of them it is their diet," she said. "Instead of healthy drinks like water, it's soda. Soda is extremely hard on teeth."
The program provides dental care for children's whose parents can't afford it.
"Some don't have access to a new toothbrush," Bland said. "We've heard stories of families that have to share a toothbrush. That's why we make sure every child walks home with a new toothbrush."
During the clinic, parents are educated on how to help their child take proper care of their teeth.
Joe Wright, who operates a practice in West Bradenton, and Allison O'Brien, who has a practice in Lakewood Ranch, will be the licensed dentists volunteering with the MTI students. Both dentists sit on the MTI department's advisory committee.
"It is to give benefits to the patient and an educational experience for the students at MTI," Wright said.
MTI students partake in eight-week internships at local practices, Bland said.
Wright said hands-on training in invaluable.
"It's like typing on a typewriter," he said. "You can have all of the bookkeeping but until you sit down on the keyboard, it won't feel natural to you."
To enroll their child in the program, parents should contact their child's school nurse, Bland said.