By Chris Collins
Seventh-grader Zoe Miner was happy to take a "ride" on the Tooth Taxi Thursday morning.
The ride was actually a turn in a dental chair aboard the 38-foot mobile home that serves as a traveling dental office. The Tooth Taxi provides free service to children like Zoe all across Oregon whose families cannot afford dental care.
The Tooth Taxi made its last visit to Baker City in 2009, said dental assistant Catherine Johnson of Newberg. She joined Dr. Josh Moffitt and Jake Goertz, another dental assistant, in the traveling dental office that visited Baker schools this month.
The Tooth Taxi, which includes two fully equippedtreatment areas and provides digital X-rays, was parked near the north end of the playground at South Baker Intermediate School last week.
Vanessa Luna, a South Baker sixth-grader, admitted she was at first a little nervous about her trip on the Tooth Taxi.
But, as Dr. Moffitt explained, the silver filling he used to repair the little cavity in her tooth Thursday will protect it from further decay. There might not have been enough tooth left to repair if treatment had been delayed another year, Moffitt said.
Vanessa was given a paper that described the work that was done, including a sealant that was placed over a deep groove in one of her other teeth. The sealant will make it easier for her to keep the tooth clean, Moffitt told her as he placed stickers on her shirt to reward her for being a cooperative patient.
And he comforted Vanessa as she prepared to go back to class with a mouth that wasn't feeling quite normal.
"It will be a little sore today, but tomorrow you'll be feeling right as rain," Moffitt assured her.
Vanessa also was given a receipt to show her parents that the $459 expense of treatment was provided at no cost to them.
The staff screened 57 students from South Baker and Baker Middle School Oct. 8-9 and then provided treatment on a priority basis as time allowed on Wednesday and Thursday. Services valued at nearly $9,000 were provided free, said Mary Daly, Tooth Taxi program manager.
Kris Miner, Zoe's mother, says that as a single mom with no dental insurance she's looking for any way she can to save money.
"It's a lifesaver," she said of the Tooth Taxi, as Zoe waited for the dentist to fill cavities in four permanent molars.
Miner works as a community support specialist in a Step Forward Activities group home. The Baker City company provides health insurance, but it cannot afford to offer dental insurance to its employees, she said.
Children without dental insurance and those with the most urgent needs are top priority for the Tooth Taxi staff, Johnson said.
The staff also will refer students who have other needs to area dentists participating in the Children's Program. It is sponsored by ODS and the Oregon Educators Benefit Board.
The Children's Program provides free dental care to Oregon children ages 5 to 18 who do not have dental insurance.
Students covered by the Oregon Health Plan have dental insurance.
During their school visits, Tooth Taxi staff members also provide toothbrushing advice, offer tips on healthy eating that will result in a healthy smile and even read a few storybooks about teeth that are donated to the school libraries when the Tooth Taxi leaves town, Johnson said.
Program Manager Daly joined the rest of the Tooth Taxi staff at Haines this week where Dr. Warren Whitnah of Halfway and his daughter, Tymmera Whitnah, a dental assistant, volunteered their services. Dr. Patrick Nearing of La Grande also volunteered his time to serve aboard the Tooth Taxi.
Hygiene students from the ODS College of Dental Sciences in La Grande traveled to Haines today to help provide cleanings for all of the students screened at Haines, Daly said.
Tooth Taxi Facts:
The Tooth Taxi is sponsored by the Dental Foundation of Oregon, the charitable arm of the Oregon Dental Association in partnership with the OEA Choice Trust, which insures school district employees, and ODS, a company that provides dental, medical and professional liability insurance and other business services, according to information provided by the organization.
The Tooth Taxi was established in the fall of 2008. As of June 1, the program had served more than 10,000 children and delivered more than $3 million in donated dental care.
Dentists, assistants and hygienists volunteer hundreds of hours on the van each year.
The Dental Foundation of Oregon is funded by foundations, companies and individuals who want to help provide dental care for children who would not otherwise receive it.
For more information about the Dental Foundation of Oregon, visit www.SmileOnOregon.org or call Charlie LaTourette, the foundation's executive director, at 503-594-0881 or visit his website at Charlie@SmileOnOregon.org .
The Tooth Taxi serves children only. More information about programs to help adults who do not have dental coverage is available at the Oregon Dental Association website: oregondental.org.