Dental problems are impacting attendance and grades in Pierce County schools, prompting county health officials to target the root of the problem.
“If you’re in severe dental pain, you can’t concentrate,” said Dr. Karen Yee-Lo, a pediatric dentist.
Tacoma’s Christensen Elementary averages 30 absent students a day. The flu is most recently the number one reason, but tooth pain is another.
Dental problems are the leading cause of school absences across the nation. A contributing factor in Pierce County is the poverty level, which is one of the highest in the state.
“It’s challenging for parents. There’s not a lot you can do. You can’t just let it go away, you’ve got to get help and when help is hard to find or hard to go to, they (students) don’t get healthier,” said principal Tim Engfield.
School health technicians aren’t allowed to give medication to students.
“We do an ice pack, let them lay down and hopefully it calms down. But often times, it’s a call to parents and they’re missing instruction,” said Enfield.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health District wants to cap the problem by bringing oral health providers directly into the schools.
“Oral health providers will link up with individual students and provide the care that’s needed,” said Gini Gobeske, a county public health consultant.
With more than 12,000 students receiving services, its oral health program aims to treat students so they’re able to attend class and learn.
“A lot of our kids really need this,” said Bobbi Krolikowski, a school health technician.
As part of the county’s effort, a “Dental Health Day” will be held at the Tacoma Mall on Saturday. Free cleanings and services will be offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.