Dental van visits Vashon, serves schoolchildren

Hygienist Jenny Wegley cleans a first-grader’s teeth last week. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Hygienist Jenny Wegley cleans a first-grader’s teeth last week.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Eleven children at Chautauqua Elementary School and McMurray Middle School received free dental care last week, thanks to a grass-roots effort to bring a dental van operated by Medical Teams International to Vashon.

The van — a cramped but fully equipped dental clinic on wheels — was situated in the parking lot between the two schools for half a day on Thursday. There, Vashon hygienist Jenny Wegley and retired dentist Cliff Eckman saw a stream of pint-sized patients, as well as a few adults in need of dentistry.

“I think it’s great,” Eck-man said. “This is an important time to reach kids.”

Asked if there’s a need for free dental care on Vashon, Eckman answered, “There’s a need for such services everywhere.”

The effort to bring the mobile clinic to Vashon was spearheaded by Island activist Hilary Emmer, who worked with a handful of others to raise the funds to cover the van’s costs. Medical Teams International, a nonprofit, charges $900 per visit — funds that were raised when Emmer and others held a recycling event on Vashon earlier this year.

Islanders who brought items to the free recycling event were asked to give donations that would go toward the dental van. Meanwhile, Friendly Earth, the company that hauled the items off-Island, sold some of them for other uses or for scrap metal.

All told, Emmer said, the recycling event brought in $4,200. Other donations as well as a grant from Granny’s Attic have created a pool of nearly $8,000 for free dental care on Vashon.

Those funds, which are being held by the Interfaith Council to Prevent Home-lessness, will cover the costs of five more trips by the dental van to serve children, Emmer said. With the money left over, she added, Islanders with dental needs that can’t be met by the van or other Island providers will be given funds to get served by dentists or oral surgeons off-Island.

Sally Adam, a family advocate for the Vashon Island School District who works extensively with Latino families, said she was pleased by last week’s event. She helped Emmer recruit children, particularly those who come from Spanish-speaking.

“What I really liked about it is that it gave the message to families — because it was housed on school grounds —  that the school is interested in the whole child,” she said. “That’s an important message.”


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