When wide-eyed 3-year-old Alma Emily Hernandez-Lopez saw the dental equipment set up in front of her, she took one look at it before turning around and walking out.

But, with some convincing from the dental hygienist and the support of her friends, Alma successfully got her teeth cleaned.

Alma was one of nine kids to get their teeth cleaned at The Foundry’s day camp Wednesday afternoon by the hygienists from the Barren River District Health Department’s mobile dental unit.

Josiah Brock, 21, the Isaiah Project intern through the United Methodist Church, planned the entire day camp at The Foundry, including arts, crafts, math lessons and sports. But Brock wanted to include something to promote healthy choices among the 20 campers.

Brock approached the health department about possible options and from there, the dental unit took care of the rest of the planning.

Dental Service Director Stacy Trowbridge said the mobile unit offers cleanings, exams and a fluoride varnish. If the child has insurance, insurance pays for the service, but if not, there is no bill, she said.

The mobile unit, which began seeing patients last summer, has since served 2,300 patients in the eight-county region, Trowbridge said.

During the school year, the unit mostly goes to schools, day cares and Head Start programs, but during the summer, the unit can reach even more kids through summer camps, The Salvation Army, back-to-school bashes and other events and organizations, she said.

“We figure if we bring it to them, it’s a lot easier,” she said. “We can pretty much have an office anywhere.”

At the end of each checkup, the child leaves with a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, as well as a dental report card to let parents know about the appointment. The unit also refers patients to a dental office to continue regular check-ups and for any major work needed.

Trowbridge and Angie Smith, both dental hygienists, are the only employees of the mobile unit. Because of this, the unit works with local dentists to do exams when traveling.

At The Foundry, Daniel Carter, dentist and dental director for the Institute for Rural Health at Western Kentucky University, performed the exams on patients.

WKU’s own mobile dental and the health departments target much of the same population - people who have never been to the dentist or haven’t been in more than a year. Because of this, Carter and and Trowbridge both said they wanted to work together so more people could be treated instead of duplicating coverage.

“There’s plenty of work,” Carter said.

Carter said that mobile units present challenges, such as limited space and lighting issues, but working with children makes the job rewarding.

“By coming to a place like this, we see children whose parents maybe can’t get them to a dentist for some reason,” he said.

For a lot of children, Carter, Trowbridge and Smith provide their first dental experience.

“It’s just neat to get to be that first contact from the dental world they have,” Carter said.

The initial grant to start the mobile unit was $250,000 from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. An additional $212,000 grant will allow the unit to add another hygienist, Trowbridge said.

An additional hygienist would help manage the overwhelming workload - at some schools, the unit treats one-third to one-half of the student body.

Trowbridge said the unit is already scheduled to make stops well into December.

“I get more excited about it all the time,” he said.

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