The School District of Cudahy is no stranger to creating a culture of service excellence for students and families. Whether working one-on-one with a student or supporting a local cause, the School District of Cudahy plays an integral part in the lives of their community’s youth. So much so that the School District of Cudahy is partnering with Ascension Wisconsin to provide access to free, in-school dental care to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

A Look at the School District of Cudahy’s Partnership to Provide Students Access to Dental Care | Excerpts from Wisconsin School News

Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, one in two children experience tooth decay. Without access to oral healthcare, children have a higher risk of developing cavities and more serious dental problems. These problems often keep children out of class and affect their ability to succeed in school.

“Many of our families struggle to make ends meet and cannot afford the luxury of dental services,” explained Cudahy Superintendent James Heiden, who said the school-based program was the result of the district’s student services team discussing how to best meet the needs of students.

According to October 2018 data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 62.5 percent of Cudahy’s students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. This is one of the highest percentages in the suburban Milwaukee area. Low-income families often cannot afford regular visits to the dentist, while those on Medicaid struggle to find dentists who will accept them as patients, and dual-income families may have difficulty missing work to take their children to medical appointments.

“I must admit that I am always shocked and somewhat dismayed at how many children need this care when I receive the yearly follow-up report from our school nurse,” explained Heiden. “But I am pleased that we can offer this service to our students. I believe it benefits them immensely. Rather than being distracted by chronic pain, they can focus on their school work.”

Participation in Cudahy’s clinics has grown from 581 in 2016-17 to 1,041 in 2018-19. Although the program is generally for lower-income families, any student may participate. The effort is so successful that the district is looking for ways to provide similar services to high school students.

Ascension’s Smart Smiles program is part of Wisconsin Seal-A-Smile, a collaborative effort of the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Delta Dental of Wisconsin. Ascension’s program is the largest Seal-A-Smile initiative in the state and served 12,000 students during the 2018-19 school year. The program works with 70 Milwaukee area schools and is Wisconsin’s biggest provider of school-based oral health.

“By bringing this care directly to our Smart Smiles schools, we’re eliminating transportation barriers for families and children in need,” said Robert Ramerez, director of community services for Ascension.

In March, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes traveled to Cudahy to promote the initiative and tour the middle school dental clinic. Increasing student access to oral healthcare is not just a matter for community collaboration but a statewide imperative.

“Oral health is very important to our kids,” Barnes said, noting that too many students lack access. “To the extent that we can be as preventative as possible. We’ll see better outcomes in health and better outcomes in education as well.”

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Reprinted with permission from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. Original Story from the Wisconsin School News Magazine August 2019, page 8

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