Free Dental Care for Portland Kids

By Nancy Tannler

Dental 3 (D3) was formed in 2014 as a partnership with Medicaid Dental Plans, Coordinated Care Organizations and Community Partners in the Portland metropolitan community. 

They serve 175 elementary and middle schools plus Head Start and Early Start programs throughout the Tri-County area.D3 services are free to Title One schools or those that receive federal free and reduced lunch rate of at least 40 percent or higher. 

Paid for by the Medicaid dental plan it is available to every student, even if they are insured elsewhere. The service includes dental assessments, application of dental sealants, oral hygiene kits, referrals, case management and oral health education.

Robin Moody, Executive Director of D3, said, “The D3 program increases dental services to the most vulnerable children who are less likely to receive private dental care. These children are 12 times more likely to have dental health issues.” 

Cavities often cause pain and infection that can lead to a child having problems with eating, speaking and learning.

Screenings are done three times a year at each location beginning at the start of the school year by dental assistants and dental hygienists in school libraries, cafeterias – anywhere onsite  there is a private available space.

Moody said consent forms are included in a child’s back-to-school packet. If these don’t get returned, D3 does follow up phone calls and other outreach to offer parents information about preventative dental health. 

In addition to care, the organization offers oral health educational resources and classroom presentations to increase understanding of the importance of good oral health habits and prevention. 

One of the most promising treatments is the School-Based Sealant Program (SBSP). Dental sealants are a thin, plastic coating placed on the chewing surfaces of the molars (back teeth) to help keep cavity-causing bacteria out of deep grooves and cracks. This protective shield blocks out germs and will protect against cavities for two years. 

Another cavity preventative is fluoride varnish. This dental treatment makes the enamel of the teeth stronger, helps stops cavities from getting bigger and helps prevent new cavities from forming. 

It is a highly-concentrated form of fluoride applied to the tooth’s surface by a dentist, dental hygienist or another healthcare professional. Studies have shown a 25-45 percent reduction in tooth decay resulting from fluoride varnish use.

The dental screening done for students by visiting hygienists does not take the place of a full dental exam done by a dentist as the school team can only see what is visible to the naked eye. 

Families with children needing follow-up dental treatment are contacted and assisted in connecting to a dental provider for ongoing care.

Moody stressed that their organization helps coordinate and navigate the dental care system with these families. 

“We follow up with parents and with dental health plans and ensure that these children are placed with a dental home where treatment for cavities or other needs can be provided,” she said. 

D3 has partnered with several dental providers who give free services to uninsured children.

Schools in SE Portland that will have the D3 program beginning this fall: Arleta Elementary, Bridger Elementary, Creston Elementary, Grout Elementary, Harrison Park, Hosford Middle School, Marysville Elementary and Vestal Elementary.

D3 occasionally has “pop-up” events at malls and community centers to provide these services too. Information on these events and all of D3’s services are at dental3.net. The website also provides fun videos for kids to watch and learn from.

Free Dental Care for Portland Kids

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