Mobile dental ‘Smile Van’ ready to roll another year; Sun Life receives $330,000 First Things First grant

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Sun Life’s ‘Smile Van’

By Lindsey Gemme

Special to the Miner

Pinal County – Sun Life Family Health Center’s oral health initiative got a boost this month when First Things First (FTF) approved a $330,000 grant so that they can continue to serve kids 0-5 and expecting mothers in Pinal County.

The three-year mobile dental program at Sun Life has grown to an extensive countywide program that reaches over 2,000 kids a year. The First Things First grant has a lot to do with that, Sun Life Mobile Dental Coordinator Diane Nystrom says. “Without this grant, our mobile dental program would have suffered,”

Nystrom said. “We could have done a little bit without these funds, but not on the scale that First Things First has allowed us to do.”

The grant will pay for the salaries of four staff members over the next year, which includes a full-time and part-time hygienist, a dental assistant/program coordinator, a driver for the organization’s mobile dental van, and part of Nystrom’s salary. The team provides screenings and fluoride varnish at county Head Start schools and community events, gives goody bags to the children screened that include coloring books related to dental health as well as dental hygiene materials such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss, and also provides oral health and nutrition education to moms as well as children at preschools, kindergarten classes and daycares.

Sun Life hopes, in the next few years, to be able to offer options such as dental exams and cleanings, x-rays, fillings, extractions, and referrals.

First Things First started in Arizona in November 2006 after voters passed Proposition 203, an initiative that created a voluntary system that funds quality early childhood development and health.

“Through First Things First (FTF), Arizona has committed to ensuring that our youngest kids have the tools they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond,” the organization says on its website.

The entire program is funded through a dedicated tax on tobacco products. With those funds, FTF improves and expands early education and health services for kids aged birth to 5 years. Decisions about services funded are made by 31 regional councils composed of local volunteers, who represent “a diverse cross-section of the community.”

“I just can’t say enough about what a wonderful program First Things First is,” Nystrom said. “It’s a huge program that helps so many people. And in the time I’ve worked with First Things First, I’ve met so many caring, dedicated people helping kids in the community in so many ways.”

The goal of the organization is to “have a state where every child is ‘Ready for School.’”

Great dental health is just one more aspect in a child’s readiness to learn. According to Nystrom at Sun Life, any dental problem could lead to pain and affect a child’s ability to pay attention in class, and could also potentially mean time out of school.

With this grant, though, the Sun Life mobile dental team is able to screen children for problems before they become one. This is especially important for children in remote rural areas in Pinal County,” Nystrom says, “who may not have regular dental exams. Sun Life’s mobile dental unit has also managed to greatly surpass its initial goal this year to serve 2200 children in Pinal County by 500 children. Nystrom says she expects the numbers to be similar this year.

“I think that there is a lot more awareness. And the kids are happy to see us. We bring the van so that the kids have a good experience. The van really caters to kids, so their first dentist visit is a happy one. And I always say, it’s the hugs we get from the kids that make it all worth it.” says Nystrom.

Visit www.azftf.gov/Pages/default.aspx to read about First Things First. To learn more about Sun Life’s mobile dental services or to find a schedule of locations and community events they will be offering their free services, visit www.sunlifefamilyhealth.org, call Diane Nystrom at (480) 560-7526, or email her at Diane.Nystrom@slfhc.org.

Sun Life Family Health Center is Pinal County’s largest primary care provider, and was one of the first community health centers in the state to have received accreditation from the Joint Commission (the gold standard of quality in healthcare). Sun Life serves both insured and uninsured Pinal County patients, and provides health services in family practice, dentistry, women’s health, pediatrics, diabetes education, and much more.

Sun Life has several area family practice offices, located in Casa Grande, Eloy, Coolidge, Maricopa, Oracle and San Manuel. The Casa Grande general health facility (located on N. Arizola Road) houses management operations, as well as family dentistry and orthodontics, and provides in-house radiology, pharmacy and laboratory services. The Center for Women & the Center for Children on Florence Boulevard in Casa Grande offer women’s wellness/maternity care and pediatric care (respectively). Our San Manuel family practice also offers in-house laboratory, radiology, diabetes education, and pharmacy services. Our Eloy and Apache Junction locations offer family practice and a public pharmacy. San Manuel, Coolidge, Maricopa, and Oracle are all family practice locations.

To learn more about office locations and hours, visit www.sunlifefamilyhealth.org. Sun Life…Excellence in Health Care.

Staff (737 Posts)

There are news or informational items frequently written by staff or submitted to the Copper Basin News, San Manuel Miner, Superior Sun, Pinal Nugget or Oracle Towne Crier for inclusion in our print or digital products. These items are not credited with an author.


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