The new program will bring free and low-cost dental care to some of Lewiston’s youngest folks.

LEWISTON – Low-income elementary school students will soon have a new reason to smile.

Tooth Fairies, a year-old private program led by two area dental hygienists, will offer free and low-cost dental care at Longley and Montello elementary schools this fall.

For $42 or less, low-income students can receive a dental evaluation, cleaning, fluoride treatment, tooth sealants and education about oral hygiene. The service will be free to kids who receive MaineCare, formerly known as Medicaid, which helps fund the program.

“We have a lot of children who don’t have a lot of access to a regular dentist, a lot of children who don’t have access to preventive dental care,” said Montello Elementary Principal Gus LeBlanc. “We have a need in our community.”

Years ago, a state program brought hygienists to Montello to provide preventive care to students. That program was discontinued.

Now, since Maine has a shortage of dentists and many who do practice won’t accept MaineCare, poor families have had a hard time finding dental care. That lack of treatment often leads to tooth decay, dental disease and health problems, experts say. And those problems can lead to issues in school.

“They’re having trouble focusing on their school work. They’re not sure why they just don’t feel well,” said Tooth Fairies hygienist and co-founder Dorothy Maroon.

Established last fall, Tooth Fairies first started serving children from local low-income housing apartments, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other area social service programs. It began serving students in the Poland and Oxford areas last winter.

They found that some of their patients, including older teenagers, had never seen a dentist, Maroon said.

Using portable equipment set up in a room on school grounds, the hygienists see five to nine children in a day. With parents’ permission, children receive a dental evaluation, basic preventive care and instructions on taking care of their teeth. If hygienists find that a child needs greater help – a filling, X-rays or surgery, for example – Tooth Fairies will refer the child to an area dentist or dental clinic that accepts MaineCare.

For children who might be afraid of the dentist, Tooth Fairies gives them a chance to get used to an exam in the safety of their own school and surrounded by their friends, said Cynthia Leavitt, a hygienist and Tooth Fairies’ other co-founder.

“It’s a lot less scary for them. It definitely makes it easier in a school setting,” she said.

At the end of their visit, all kids get their own colorful, battery-operated toothbrush.

“We’re hoping it will motivate the children when they’re home to practice good oral hygiene,” said Maroon.

Tooth Fairies hygienists hope to see the children twice a year. They will begin seeing students at Longley and Montello schools this fall. If all goes well, officials may look at expanding the program to other Lewiston schools.

It’s a program Montello’s principal is happy to see.

“I think it’s a quality of life issue,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a gift not only of the present but for the future.”

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