Organization offers free care, education for underprivileged local students

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Hayden Drake, a seventh-grade student, had his teeth cleaned and cavities filled Tuesday aboard the Tooth Taxi.

Thirteen Centennial Middle School students stepped aboard a 38-foot motorhome-turned-dental office Monday and Tuesday.

During their appointments with the “Tooth Taxi,” they received free dental care and learned how to take care of their teeth.

“We usually see kids much younger,” said Dr. Michelle Stafford, a pediatric dentist volunteer who was joined by her assistant, Savina Rosales. “(The middle school students) have such big teeth to us!

“I think it’s so important to be involved in the community, and this is such a wonderful way to spend your day with kids.”

All together, 22 Centennial Middle students were screened and received preventive dental care kits from the Tooth Taxi and 13 received about $9,000 worth of services.

State and national studies indicate that around 52 percent of children age 6 to 9 have a cavity — about 66,000 Oregon school children — with the numbers significantly higher for low-income families.

According to Oregon educators’ estimates, around 5,000 Oregon children experience dental pain during the school day.

“Access to dental care is a real problem in Oregon,” said C.J. McLeod, the board president of The Dental Foundation of Oregon. “The Tooth Taxi is delivering care and oral health education directly to children who need it most.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - According to estimates, about 5,000 Oregon children experience dental pain during the school day. Hayden Drake, shown here, won't be among them after receiving treatment from the dentist aboard the Tooth Taxi.

Since its launch in late 2008, Tooth Taxi staff and volunteers have screened and presented oral hygiene education to more than 14,000 students. They’ve provided comprehensive and preventive dental care to more than 7,000 students in the van. This all totals an estimated $3.9 million in donated dental services.

Fueled by donations, the Tooth Taxi was formed by partner organizations OEA Choice Trust, ODS and The Dental Foundation of Oregon, a charitable arm of the Oregon Dental Association.

“This was my first time hearing of this and it was really amazing,” said Hayden Drake, a seventh-grade student. “I’ve never seen someone do this for kids at a school. It’s just amazing they could do this — put equipment on one bus, hook it up to the school and help the kids here.”

The Tooth Taxi features two fully equipped dental units, including X-rays. Staff members stay up to a week at schools throughout Oregon, treating uninsured and underserved students with limited accessed to dental care.

The staff includes Dr. Bruce Richardson; assistants, Debi Hawkins, Catherine Johnson and Becca Jordan; and Program Manager Mary Daly. Dentists and their assistants provide hundreds of hours of volunteers hours on the van each year.

“This is a gift,” said Sarah Lussman, the school’s nurse. “It’s like we’ve won the lottery with the Tooth Taxi. “They were very flexible — incredibly patient and accommodating.”

This year, the Tooth Taxi is expected to provide more than $700,000 worth of dental services to more than 3,000 Oregon children.

To learn more about the Tooth Taxi, visit

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