LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Having clean and healthy teeth may seem like a small thing, but for children of migrant workers who don't always have access to dental care it's very important.
"It's a matter of a healthy life," said Esperanza Gamboa, the coordinator of the farmworkers career development program who helps organize an annual event that provides free preventative dental treatments to migrant children in the Manatee County School District.
The collaborative effort brings together volunteer dentists from the community, dental assisting students at MTC and migrant students in the school district. The annual event is sponsored by Tropicana to ensure migrant children have up-to-date x-rays, cleanings and go home with new toothbrushes and toothpaste. For a variety of reasons -- no health insurance, constant moving, living in remote areas -- migrant children often miss out on the recommended dental check-ups. Small problems that can be found at preventative cleanings can spiral and turn into major complications.
"This program is sometimes the first time the children have seen a dentist," she said.
Munching on a provided lunch after the cleaning, 8-year-old Jose Santiago-Giron and 11-year-old Jose Gutierrez, both students at Witt Elementary School, said they enjoyed the experience. Jose said he enjoys how his mouth feels after his teeth are cleaned.
"I like all of it," he said. "If you don't take care of your teeth, they'd be yellow and your breath would smell bad."
Both boys came out of the experience with clean bills of health, but the program also allows coordinators to highlight children who have cavities or may need follow-up appointments. Oftentimes, a dentist will volunteer to perform the work for the students.
For the MTC dental assisting students, the experience is a whole new level of patient care, said Kim Bland, the dental assisting program director. Many of the students in the program have had clinical experience with adults, but with children -- especially those who may have never been to the dentist -- it's a whole different experience.
"It's eye-opening for our students," Bland said.
Working with children reinforces the notion of "inform, then perform," for 21-year-old Madison Lutz, a dental assisting student who'll graduate the program in January. With children, it's very important to describe to them what's going on and what it will feel like before performing the action to make the children feel comfortable.
"You're helping out someone that's so adorable, but at the same time you're also getting the professionalism that's needed for the clinical hours," Lutz said. "We don't want them to be afraid in the future."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.