What do dentists and a late self-made multi-millionaire, who grew up dirt poor in Oneida, Tennessee, have to do with Whitley County elementary school children?
The short answer is the millionaire grew up having dental pain, but his family couldn’t afford to take him to see a dentist until he was 17 years old. Prior to his death, he set up a foundation that has a goal, in part, to keep this from happening to other children.
Starting this fall, that foundation will be working with a local dental provider in Williamsburg to help Whitley County students with free dental services.
Of course, there would be nothing else to do if we didn’t also include the long answer to this question, so please keep reading.
During the Whitley County Board of Education’s monthly meeting Thursday, the board approved an agreement between the district, Dayspring Family Dental and the Elgin Foundation for a dental program to treat elementary-age school children.
Dayspring Dental, which is a service of Dayspring Health, has a dental office in Williamsburg, and is also the dental health provider for the Williamsburg Independent School District.
The late B.R. Thompson, the self-made multi-millionaire mentioned earlier, founded the Elgin Foundation.
“He said, ‘I had a tooth ache for years and I thought about trying to pull my tooth myself.’ He was 17 before he could get to a dentist. He had a heart for those children sitting in school in pain, and don’t have anyone that can take them, or that can take them and don’t have the financial means to pay for a dentist,” said Elgin Foundation Dental Director Tracy Farmer.
“He would tell you this program is for the kids that have Medicaid and other insurance, but they just don’t have that guardian who is picking up the phone and calling up the dentist scheduling an appointment and taking them like we would our children. It is also for the kids, who we would say are the working poor. Mom and Dad may say, ‘Do we buy them the shoes they need or do I get them the dental work they need?’ We want to take that barrier from them and say, ‘You buy the shoes. Let us take care of the dental work.’”
Thompson said the Dayspring Dental will do what Elgin refers to as “triages” for the students, which are quick, cursory “open up and say ah” examinations of the students.
The students will be then being categorized class one, two or three.
Class one students have an immediate need to see the dentist, and officials follow up with parents or guardians immediately to possibly get the students in to see the dentist that day.
Class two students have a need for dental work, but it isn’t urgent.
Class three students just need things, such as dental cleanings and a full examination to make sure everything is all right. In the case of class three students, dental providers will go into school after parents or guardian’s sign consent forms to provide the students with that treatment.
For those children needing non-urgent treatment, paperwork will be sent home to see if the parents already have a dental provider. If not, the children can be taken to Dayspring Dental, which is located in the shopping center across from Walmart off Exit 11 in Williamsburg.
If the parents can’t afford treatment, then the Elgin Foundation will pay those bills.
In the event of parents, who can’t or won’t take their child to the dentist for treatment, Farmer said the students would be provided with “dental field trips” to the dentist office for treatment.
Farmer said that Elgin is also working with the University of the Cumberlands to provide student volunteers, who will work with the younger children while they are in the waiting rooms so they can continue learning even while not in school The college students may help the elementary students with schoolwork or read to or with them.
The Elgin Foundation works in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, and last school year worked in 36 school districts in 202 schools screening 31,000 school children. Over 17,200 children were taken to a dental office through the program.
“I think this will be a great opportunity for us to partner with these folks, and provide a needed service to our kids,” noted Whitley County Superintendent John Siler.
Siler said that through the program, the district would be able to add dental screenings to the vision and hearing screenings that students already can receive during the upcoming redifest event next month for the 2019-2020 school year.