More than 80 Newark school students are having dental work done for free through an Ohio State University (OSU) Area Health Education Center grant.

More than 80 Newark school students are having dental work done for free through an Ohio State University (OSU) Area Health Education Center grant.

"Many of these kids have never seen a dentist," said Linda Price, Newark City Schools' supervisor of special programs. "This is substantially assisting these kids who don't have access to these services."

Price said it's part of the school's education process, to help children learn about dental care. The school already works with the Licking County Health Department to have sealant put on children's teeth.

Workers from the health department initially identified children who might need more dental care. Those students were referred to the OSU mobile dental coach, which spent the entire month of February working in Newark schools. The coach is staffed by students and teachers from the OSU College of Dentistry.

"They do fillings, extract teeth and run the whole gamut of dentistry that these kids normally would do without," said Mary Beth Hagstad, child and family health-services director for the health department.

Hagstad said children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs were eligible.

Price said 54.71 percent of the school system's elementary and middle school student population is part of the free or reduced-price lunch program.

She said the dental work could help the students academically. By making them feel better, the students might perform better. The program also helps parents who don't have a dentist and might not be able to find transportation to a dentist.

"There are some homes where this is not a priority," Price said. "They (families and children) need help, and it was extraordinary that we were able to offer this."

Some of the students were able to see the coach dentists more than once, and Price said the coach would return in April for a short time.

"They're coming back for a couple of days to finish up," she said.

Besides helping the Newark students, the coach also provides good experiences for the OSU dental students, said Canise Bean, director of community education for the OSU College of Dentistry.

"The (OSU) students get more of an opportunity to treat the pediatric population, and it allows them to increase their knowledge base, their technical skills and gives them confidence in treating that population," Bean said.

She said children are intimidating to some dental students, but opportunities like those offered by the coach "increase the likelihood that they (OSU students) will be open to pediatric" treatment.

Before the OSU students began their work in Newark, staff from the health department educated them about the population of Newark. Hagstad said the information helped the OSU students be more aware of whom they would be working with and the challenges they might face.

Bean said the mobile dental coach has been working in Columbus City Schools since 2005, but this is the first year grants have allowed the coach to work outside the Columbus area.

"It's really been a delight -- the cooperation we've received from the health department and the schools," she said.

The dental students helped the Licking County Health Department workers, too, by helping to teach basic dental practices in the classrooms. Hagstad said the health department staff members have a dental program for district third-graders.

She said some students might have been apprehensive about going to the dentist when the program was announced, but she hopes more students would participate as the word spreads and that the program would continue into next year.

Children were not required to provide proof of income or insurance to be treated in the dental coach.

Bean said that when choosing Newark as a place to take the coach, OSU looked at the number of dentists, area demographics, the number of dental specialists and the number of dentists that accept Medicaid.

Price said the poverty level in the district is checked monthly. At last calculation, Ben Franklin Elementary School had the most students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, and Legend Elementary School had the least.