Tooth Ferry Truck Teaches Good Oral Hygiene

By Lura Jackson

 

The Tooth Ferry travels from school to school teaching practices of good oral hygiene and providing services such as the application of sealants to children all over Washington County. Dental program assistant Amanda Overlock oversees all aspects of the programming of the service, including actually driving the truck. (Submitted photo).

Establishing good dental hygiene practices is important for avoiding tooth decay as well as associated problems like bad breath. Recent studies have shown that poor dental care is also linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and pancreatic cancer. Despite this, many children in and around Washington County are unable to afford regular dental check-ups. To meet the high need for dental care and the instruction of effective dental hygiene, Washington County Children’s Program operates a unique vehicle known as the Tooth Ferry.

The Tooth Ferry has its beginnings in 1976, when WCCP began offering oral health education in schools. The organization traveled from school to school, giving away tooth brushes and teaching kids how to care for their teeth. Within a few decades, it became apparent that there was a significant need for dental services around the county, and the idea of a traveling dental office was born. In 2003, the Tooth Ferry truck was put on the road, with dental program assistant Amanda Overlock now at the helm.  

Each year, the Tooth Ferry truck is boarded by 900 children, most of whom receive cleanings and checkups. About 25% of the children are observed to have tooth decay, according to dental hygienist and program coordinator Teresa Alley. When the children have cavities, the parents are alerted and the recommendation is made that the child be taken to a dental office. If children don't have a “dental home”, the annual no-cost dental clinic held in Machias is recommended instead.

The most popular service is the placement of dental sealants, which is a plastic coating that is painted on with a toothbrush to the chewing surfaces of adult molar teeth. The coatings are applied to cavity free teeth and help seal out the grooved portions of the teeth to prevent decay. Approximately 500 sealants are applied by the Tooth Ferry every year. 

Part of the goal of the Tooth Ferry is to help children feel comfortable and familiar with caring for their teeth, as well as with visiting dental service providers. In many cases, the children have not been to a dentist before, and the Tooth Ferry provides a safe environment for that to take place. “Many dental conditions are preventable if good oral health habits become routine at a young age,” Alley says. 

 

To find out when the Tooth Ferry is visiting your elementary school, call Teresa Alley at 255-3426.