New Springfield-area Tooth Truck does more than just providing healthy smiles
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On Thursday, during an SPS University event at Central High School, the public toured the new Ronald McDonald House Care Mobile, funded mainly by the Springfield Public Schools system.
Better known as the Tooth Truck, the new unit is expected to carry on a proud tradition that has made the program a well-known fixture in the Ozarks for the past 20 years.
”The idea is pretty simple,” explained Mindy Munoz, the Tooth Truck Program Director. “We want to provide comprehensive dental treatment to kids who don’t have access to a regular dentist. We can repair cavities, help wiggle out baby teeth, or even do permanent root canals if necessary. Students do have to qualify for our services, and we do that primarily through being eligible for the free-or-reduced lunch program and not having access to a dental home.”
The original Tooth Truck arrived in 2002 and expanded its service area beyond just the Springfield Public Schools, helping over 30,000 students.
“We started in Springfield, but we’ve been able to grow and travel as far away as West Plains,” Munoz said. “We go to several other school districts as well, like Willard, Billings, Clever, Verona, Mt. Vernon, and a bunch of other places. So after 20 years, our original Tooth Truck needed to be replaced. It was just worn out, and it was time to get a new one.”
So thanks to over $538,719 from Springfield Public Schools, a $34,500 gift from Delta Dental, and a $5,000 grant from the Darr Foundation, a new state-of-the-art Tooth Truck is ready to help another generation of youngsters.
“We are now seeing kids whose parents were also Tooth Truck patients,” said Dr. Sarah Cimino, a Tooth Truck Dentist. “They are so excited to tell us that their mom or dad or teacher went to the Tooth Truck. You know, Beanie Babies were really popular back in the early days, and we would hand them out as prizes. And there are people who still to this day talk about getting a Beanie Baby as well as telling us, ‘You fixed my front tooth so I could smile for school pictures.’”
It seems that the most important thing those who work on the tooth truck have discovered over the years is that something as simple as fixing a tooth can produce a healthy smile and boost a child’s self-esteem.
“My absolute favorite part of working with the tooth truck is seeing the change we make in a child’s life,” Munoz said. “My favorite story was about a high school student at Glendale who had a chipped front tooth. You could immediately tell that she was very self-conscious about it. After they repaired that tooth and sat her up and helped her hold a mirror in front of her face, just watching that moment and how she just broke down with emotion was something I will never forget. It was right before prom and graduation, so it gave her that confidence and that smile that she was always meant to have.”
Even the hygiene bag given to every student who visits the truck can be a difference maker.
“At the end of the appointment they’re going to get a new toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss,” Cimino said. “And they look at you, and their eyes brighten up, and they say, ‘For my own?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, just for you.’ And they say, ‘I’ve never had one that was just mine!’ So that’s really touching to know that it means so much to a kid. But it’s also sad to realize that there are kids out there who haven’t had a toothbrush that’s their own.”
“We hear feedback from the school counselors and teachers on what we are able to achieve through a dental visit in making an impact on their self-worth,” Munoz added. “We try to pour love on them when they visit and make them less self-conscious.”
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