There’s a new requirement for kids who’re going to kindergarten this fall and for students who’re entering high school. Every new elementary and new high school student in the state must take a state health department form to school to prove they’ve had a dental screening.
Representative Ro Foege, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, was a strong advocate of that dental screening requirement. "I’m an old-school social worker and what I know is that when you’re trying to teach Johnnie or Susie to read and they’re sitting there with a toothache, reading is a secondary issue for them at that point," Foege says.
Schools are gearing up for the change, too. Jean Phillips is health services supervisor for the Des Moines Public Schools. "We’re focusing on getting the message out to parents of children enrolling in kindergarten and ninth grade as sort of the target groups," Phillips says. "We have made copies of the new dental form for parents to have at registration."
A new, state-funded network of dental hygienists is at work to try to provide dental screenings to poor Iowans who cannot afford a trip to the dentist. Carly Beem, a hygienist in private practice for many years, now checks the teeth of kids who visit the "Women, Infants and Children" office in Marshalltown. "I really saw lots of cavities or really bad mouths in children probably ten times during my whole career," Beem says, "and now we can see it three, four, five times in one day."
For most students, however, the family dentist will sign the form showing the new student has had their teeth checked. New students who haven’t gone to the dentist or dental hygienist won’t be turned away from school. In those cases, it’s most likely a school nurse will check the kids and if he or she finds significant tooth decay or problems, they’ll try to line up a visit to the dentist.