By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — — Going to the dentist doesn't have to be a frightening experience for kids, said dental hygienist Mandi Shepard of the Dental Safari Company.
Shepard's group travels to schools throughout Southern Illinois to provide exams, cleanings, and other dental work for children.
And while the chief aim of the Marion-based company is to promote good dental health, organizers also want to alleviate some of the fear kids have of getting their teeth worked on.
“They see their friends do it and they're not as scared,” Shepard said. “We really try to encourage them. We show them everything. … We just do the best we can to get them to do it.”
Shepard and several other members of Dental Safari visited the Dr. Andy Hall Early Childhood Center Tuesday and Wednesday to give dental care to students.
More than 140 Hall students received care over the two-day period. The care mainly included exams, cleanings, and fluoride treatments.
In about a month, Safari workers will return to Andy Hall in a mobile unit to do follow-up treatments, said Safari dentist Lesley Hauser.
“The main difference between our company and others is we come back and do follow-up care,” Hauser said. “I think it's amazingly important because a lot of these children have limited access to care. And so a lot of times they have a lot of dental needs and they're not met.”
This is the second year Dental Safari has treated students at Andy Hall.
During school registration, parents were given the chance to fill out a form authorizing their children to receive care through the program.
All children are eligible for Dental Safari. The company accepts kids covered by Medicaid or private insurance. The group also offers a reduced fee for students enrolled in the school's free and reduced lunch program.
In addition, Dental Safari receives grant funding to supply free care to students who are uninsured and can't afford to pay anything.
“It is a wonderful program that we offer our children here at school,” said Becky Webb, a registered nurse for District 80 schools.
While providing the care at Andy Hall this week, the dentists and school staff tried to make the experience as fun as possible for the kids.
In many cases, these children were seeing a dentist for the first time, Webb said.
Hauser said she hopes Dental Safari can help educate children and parents about the importance of oral hygiene.
Many people falsely believe that caring for baby teeth is not as important since kids lose those teeth anyway, Hauser said.
“A lot of times, people don't realize that baby teeth hurt,” Hauser said. “The idea is to get people to be educated about their dental needs.”