RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak, left, and St. Apollonia Dental Clinic Director Dr. Norma Desjardins stand next to a dental chair that was recently donated by the clinic to the Caribou Community School. Credit: Chris Bouchard / Aroostook Republican & News

CARIBOU, Maine — A donation from a local clinic will propel the Caribou Community School into a unique position as one of at least two schools in Maine to offer dental services to students.

The St. Apollonia Dental Clinic of Presque Isle has donated a dental chair to the school in hopes of protecting children from the negative effects of inadequate preventative oral care.

St. Apollonia Executive Director Norma Desjardins visited the April 28 RSU 39 school board meeting to emphasize the importance of proper dental maintenance. She shared the story of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy who died as a result of an untreated abscess in 2007.

“We don’t like to talk about people dying from not having their teeth taken care of, but that’s a consequence that can happen, and that’s why prevention is so important,” she said.

RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) Superintendent Tim Doak said May 3 that the specific details regarding the timing of the care, and who provides the care, are not yet confirmed, but the district wants to add dental screenings and preventive care to the list of health services already available within the Caribou School System. Ideally, he hopes to begin dental service for PreK-8 students this fall.

Doak said he was inspired to start offering dental care a couple of years ago after visiting Brewer Middle School, a K-8 facility, and seeing how its dental chair was used to help students maintain their oral hygiene. He and administrators had discussed the option for some time.

“It’s quite an important thing in today’s world to make sure that dental is taken care of as it could lead to other health problems later in life,” he said.

The care in Brewer is focused on early prevention and detecting oral health issues, he said. For major issues they recommend a student to a dentist. They don’t do any drilling or instill novocaine, Doak said, which will be similar to what Caribou Community School eventually offers.

And like in Brewer, Doak said the services in Caribou would be covered by students’ MaineCare, providing care to numerous students who otherwise may not have access to regular appointments.

Desjardins and her husband purchased the chair through a mobile unit in central Maine, which downsized as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. The “gently used” chair, purchased for about $11,000, came with basic equipment but does not have an air and vacuum system yet. These additions are part of the clinic’s and school’s long-term goals.

“It’s a beautiful chair, and we’re going to be able to do some really good screenings there, and some evaluations and preventative care,” Desjardins said.

The initial goals are dental screenings, fluoride varnish applications and tobacco prevention counseling, later adding sealant applications and, long term, offering cleanings in the school, all aimed at easing burdens for families who face obstacles to dental care.

“So in working with families, one of the big things we find — and this is verified by ACAP — is that transportation is a big issue,” Desjardins told the school board. “Either the family doesn’t have a car, or has an unreliable car, or has no gas money for the car, or wakes up one morning and the car won’t start, and they don’t have another family member to call to see if they can bring the child to the appointment.”

“If we can come to them at the school, we’re going to be able to provide more preventative services, and hopefully what that means in the long run is less oral or dental disease,” she said.

The goal is to focus on students without regular access to dental care, or who are in need of help.

“This is beautiful in my eyes, because something we’ve always wanted this school to have was a dental chair,” Doak said. “It’s very fortunate that this is happening with the help of the St. Apollonia partnership, and I feel great about this for the school district.”