Columbia St. Mary’s Foundation officials today celebrated the unveiling of a new mobile dental clinic designed to meet the urgent dental care needs of Milwaukee students.
The new Ascension Seton Mobile Dental Clinic, a coach bus outfitted with two patient areas, a sterilization area and waiting room, will expand the health system’s school-based oral health program Smart Smiles by addressing more serious oral health issues.
The foundation has raised about $1.1 million from philanthropic donations to purchase and outfit the coach, and to cover initial operating costs. Among the lead donors are Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Wisconsin, Evan and Marion Helfaer Foundation, Delta Dental, Children’s Community Health Plan, Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Water and Olive Stiemke Fund and Bank of the West.
The Smart Smiles program has provided basic preventive dental services with makeshift clinics in Milwaukee schools since 2001. Hygienists employed by Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s provide students with screenings, teeth cleaning and application of fluoride and sealants.
Among the more than 10,000 students served annually, about 40 percent have untreated cavities and more than 700 have serious dental conditions, including infections and abscesses.
“We would literally want to be the dentist at that day, and these kids sometimes get no care at all,” said Lisa Froemming, president and CEO of Columbia St. Mary’s Foundation.
Access to dental services in the inner city is limited, Froemming said, and Wisconsin’s Medicaid reimbursement rate for dentists is among the country’s lowest. Froemming said the mobile clinic will eliminate the barriers of access and transportation.
The goal is to treat up to 1,000 children who need urgent dental care or have severe untreated cavities on the mobile dental clinic, said Bill Solberg, community services director of Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s.
Cheryl Bledsoe, assistant principal of Cross Trainers Academy at 1530 W. Center Street, welcomes the services that will be provided by the mobile clinic.
“We try to eliminate all barriers — hunger, housing, clothing, we provide uniforms — we also need to remove barriers of sickness,” Bledsoe said. “So this is such a blessing for our students and this community.”