POCATELLO, Idaho - A new grant will now allow various health service programs in southeast Idaho to help provide dental care to kids for free.
Today the Ronald McDonald House gave a $14,000 grant to the Southeastern Idaho Public Health department and Idaho State University's Dental Hygiene Clinic.
"Dental health is a pretty significant issue in so many ways," Ronald McDonald House executive director Mindy Plumee said. "Not having proper preventative care or not having emergency care can impact how kids eat, how they learn, and so many parts of their health overall."
SIPH dental hygienist Karla Alex said this money will allow them to provide fluoride varnish services for kids in the D25 school district, Marsh Valley, Aberdeen and American Falls.
"We have kids with holes in their teeth, kids with unmet needs, parents that are struggling to provide," Alex said. "We're seeing a lot more people needing services that, in the past, maybe didn't need them before."
Alex said she has worked in this field for the past four decades, and has always seen the lack of dental care among the youth as a big problem.
However, she said now more and more parents are realizing these needs and these grants will allow them to provide these services.
"It allows us to pay for supplies, pay for our time, so that we can offer it to families in need for no charge."
Alex noted the most recent survey numbers are showing up to 20-percent of kids between second and sixth grade are in need of proper dental care.
ISU's Dental Hygiene Clinic assistant professor and community outreach director Karen Portillo said this grant will help them purchase new, portable equipment so they can travel to lower-income, Title I schools and provide these services.
Portillo and her 60 dental hygiene students will first head to Green Acres Elementary School to provide dental sealants for the second grade students.
Both Portillo and Alex noted the lack of proper dental care takes a tremendous toll on the students' ability to learn.
"It's pretty hard when you have dental pain to eat properly; usually you can't eat nutritional foods," Portillo said. "So, kids don't eat properly and it's very difficult to sleep when you're in pain, so they're not alert in school."
"It just breaks my heart when I see a child that has got a lot of decay because I know their mouth is hurting and they're not able to meet their full potential," Alex agreed.
Portillo added, nationally, an average of 51 million school hours are lost each year due to kids suffering from dental pains.
Plumee said this year alone, the Ronald Mcdonald House gave a total of six grants to dental hygiene programs across the state, totaling more than $43,000 in donations.