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School dentistry program could spread countywide

MANATEE — School nurse Cheryl Stuart is known for her dedication to making sure “her kids” at McNeal Elementary School are healthy.

That’s why Pete Masterson, a dentist at Lakewood Ranch Dental who has two children of his own at McNeal, was not surprised last year when Stuart asked him if he could do dental evaluations for economically disadvantaged students.

This year, Stuart enhanced the program when she arranged to have Masterson come to the Richard T. Conard M.D. Medical and Dental Building at Manatee Technical Institute’s East Campus to screen 23 students.

MTI upped the value by offering about 30 beginner and advanced students from the MTI Dental Assisting Program to provide each student with a dental cleaning, polishing, fluoride treatment and X-rays.

It could represent the launch of a pilot program that eventually serves children countywide.

“Pain and suffering due to untreated dental disease can lead to problems eating, sleeping, speaking and learning. We’re hoping to start with McNeal and eventually serve all of the elementary schools in Manatee County,” Kim Bland, MTI dental assisting program director, said in a press release.

The cost for the exam by Masterson and the preventative care was $10.

“I will pack up all the assessments, turn them over to Nurse Cheryl and I would bet she will find specialists to do pro bono work,” Masterson said as the young patients arrived, five at a time.

“This was very exciting,” said Bland, during the four-hour session which had many moms on hand. “We have a big need here. We are seeing numerous cavities and a few orthodontical problems.”

The dental assisting students, some of whom had never worked with patients, made every effort to make the children comfortable. Some children had not been to a dentist before or perhaps, their only experience was getting teeth pulled.

Kayla Northington, who will graduate from the year-long dental assisting program in June, showed her patient, Leyvys Cruz, the device she would used to squirt water into his mouth. She held the polisher against his wrist to show him it didn’t hurt.

Jessica Ross could be heard saying to her patient, Yoni Morales, “You did so good!”

Shannon Aitken showed Williams Mendoza how he could see himself in the dental instrument with the round mirror on the end.

“With kids, there must always be a lot of show and tell,” Bland said.

Jessica Aquino, 9, had been to a dentist only twice in her life before Wednesday.

Having Masterson’s gloved fingers searching her mouth for cavities was a little unsettling, but dental assistant Amber Amick, a 2006 Lakewood Ranch High School graduate, kept her calm.

“I’m a little scared,” Jessica said at the beginning.

Masterson took time with each young patient.

“Do you have a good tooth brush?” Masterson asked Williams.

The youngster nodded.

“Do you eat a lot of candy?”

Williams shook his head.

“I want you to work hard at keeping your teeth clean,” the dentist told the patient. “For now, how about if we get you all cleaned up and polished?”

Williams smiled.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.

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