Free teeth screening program benefits Routt County toddlers |

Free teeth screening program benefits Routt County toddlers

— Lyndi McDermott and Toni Hall Telford arrived at the Child Development Center in Steamboat Springs on Monday afternoon with a box of blue surgical gloves, paper masks and toothbrushes. And when they walked into a classroom to inspect a small group of preschoolers' mouths for cavities, the visiting oral hygienist and dental assistant were not met with the resistance they sometimes expect from children.

"The dragon definitely helps," Telford said as she looked at the stuffed animal she carried into the room, which instead of fangs had a full set of plastic human teeth.

Telford, a dental assistant who is coordinating Routt County's new Cavity-Free at Three program, and McDermott, an oral hygienist with the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, used a large yellow toothbrush and the dragon's plastic pearly whites to demonstrate to the children how they should brush their own baby teeth twice each day. Then, they checked the mouths of about 20 children for signs of cavities. Telford and McDermott's visit to the center was part of a larger initiative First Impressions of Routt County and the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition launched in October to prevent and treat cavities in children up to 5 years old.

Telford said she visits preschools and day care centers in Routt County once every week for free screenings that are made possible by a $120,000 grant First Impressions received this year from the Colorado Trust, which funds child care initiatives across the state.

"This is a very unique funding opportunity," said Stephanie Martin, program supervisor for First Impressions of Routt County's Early Childhood Council. "Not only are we screening children for cavities, we are educating health care professionals in our community on why it's important to do these oral health screenings at a young age."

Martin said the grant and the oral screenings are a response to higher cavity rates seen in children in the Yampa Valley compared to cavity rates in children statewide.

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"Our goal is to screen all children ages birth to 5 over the three-year grant period," Martin said, adding that First Impressions is starting to this year focus its efforts on children enrolled in early learning environments.

A 2007 parent survey included in a 2009 First Impressions assessment of local child care needs showed Routt County had a higher percentage of third-graders with cavities than the state's overall percentage. Untreated tooth decay in Routt County was estimated to be 32 percent that year, compared to 25 percent across the state.

Of the approximately 40 sets of teeth that were screened Monday in Steamboat, Telford said about seven of them will be recommended to see a dentist, mostly for signs of tooth decay.

"Most children start going to the dentist when they are 3 years old, but most decay in teeth starts earlier than that, and we want to catch it earlier," she said.

Telford said parents are notified of the results of the screenings that the dental assistant said also teach families about the importance of a child's oral health even before their permanent teeth start to appear.

"There are a lot of children we see whose parents are unaware they should be seen by a dentist," Telford said. "Oral diseases are 100 percent preventable and sometimes parents don't understand what a risk they are."

Martin said the partnership with the Dental Coalition is a welcome expansion of the services Routt County's child care providers can offer to parents free of charge.

"We're providing more than just day care services, and they are impacting the development of the whole child," she said. "If there is a 2-year-old with tooth decay and mom and dad are working and cannot schedule a dentist or a screening, this is a service we can provide."

And after the students at the Child Development Center returned to their playtime, Telford said she hopes the free screening program, which is funded through 2013, continues to grow.

"We're just getting started," she said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email

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