Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) Department of Dental Hygiene will be holding a clinic Thursday, March 9 for families to receive free dental exams and cleanings for their kids.
The department holds these events, called Kiddie Clinic, once a semester, with NAU dental students providing the care, supervised by a licensed hygienist. This year’s appointments are completely free as the event is sponsored by Delta Dental of Arizona.
Half-hour appointments are available at 9 a.m, 10:30 a.m, 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m, in which time kids aged 16 and younger can receive a dental exam cleaning, x-rays and fluoride.
Families can learn more or schedule an appointment by calling 928-523-3500 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Thomas, an assistant clinical professor in the department of dental hygiene, said between 60 and 70 kids receive preventative care at each Kiddie Clinic event, which has been running for over 25 years.
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NAU’s dental hygiene program is the only bachelor’s of its kind available in Arizona. Every semester of the two-year program (which requires two years of prerequisites), students take a clinical course, working in the on-campus clinic 12 to 16 hours a week.
The Kiddie Clinic will be in the same clinic, though it will be decorated for Thursday's event with balloons, music and prizes donated by local dentists and orthodontists.
As a requirement of their program, dental hygiene students must see patients of every age. The dental clinic offers low-cost appointments to all ages while school is in session, Thomas said, but this event is a special chance to work with a younger age group.
Working with kids isn’t much different from adults in terms of procedure, Thomas said, noting that the main difference comes in making sure the kids are comfortable. This can be introducing them to some of the equipment, explaining the process or having a parent sit with them.
A common misconception about kids' dentistry, she said, is that kids’ teeth don’t need to be cared for because they will fall out. This is not true, she said -- families need to start caring for children’s teeth as soon as they come in. Thomas said the clinic had seen patients as young as five months old.
“As soon as they come into the mouth, [teeth] can decay, so that’s when the education and the cleaning needs to start,” she said.
“...People don’t think about coming to the dentist, but really the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends by the time their first tooth erupts or by their first birthday, they go in and see a dentist. It may not be the case that there’s a bunch of decay yet, but it gives us the chance to show parents how to clean their teeth, tell them it’s important and show them how to do it early on. It’s also a great introduction for the child.”
As with adults, the recommendation is to get a cleaning and dental exam every six months to a year.
“Your oral health is a really significant indicator of your overall health, mental health," Thomas said. "Baby teeth, if they’re decayed can cause pain, damage, poor speech, embarrassment, social isolation. ...They can also damage the incoming adult teeth and they serve as placeholders for those adult teeth, so sometimes if they lose a bunch of baby teeth, they don’t have room for the adult teeth to erupt so it's really really important.”
NAU’s dental hygiene clinic also offers appointments for a flat fee. More about prices and scheduling is available at nau.edu/dental-hygiene/clinic. Appointments for this week's Kiddie Clinic can be made by calling 928-523-3500 or emailing email@example.com.