For one T.C. Williams student, the arrival of the WOW Bus outside the school this week was just what he needed. Gabriel* is in the T.C. International Academy and has not seen a dentist in two years. He had a serious cavity that had the potential to turn nasty. With no dental insurance and little spare money outside of what he earns to live on from his restaurant job, his options to get it looked at had been limited.
This week, the Alexandria Wellness on Wheels (WOW) Bus offered a sneak peek at dental treatments available on the bus to students at T.C. Williams for the first time. Students have an option to pay for urgent treatment on a sliding scale with care to minimize missed class time. Gabriel was one of the nearly 500 International Academy students who, one class at a time, squeezed into the two dental suites at either end of the bus and filled the waiting area to learn about their options. The WOW Bus, funded in part by the PTSA, offers access to regular exams, x-rays, cleanings and fluoride treatments. It also offers fillings, extractions and root canals.
Many of the students who visited the bus this week are not aware of the underlying health risks that come from an untreated cavity. They avoid the dentist due to prohibitive costs.
A cavity left untreated is a dangerous thing. It’s an infection in your tooth and if you don’t treat it, it can cause additional damage — especially because of the proximity to the brain. It can lead to an abscess caused by a bacterial infection and this, left untreated, could be life threatening. Preventive oral care is not just about your teeth. It’s critical to overall physical, emotional and mental health,” said ACPS Health Services Coordinator, Dr. Barbara Nowak.
By meeting students where they are, at school, students are able to receive routine oral care during the school day with minimal time away from the classroom. All students are able to receive care regardless of ability to pay.
The last time I went to the dentist, I had to miss my last block and I missed some school work that I had to make up. I don’t like to miss my classes. In Guatemala it’s expensive to pay for school, but here it is free. I really like my classes and don’t want to miss any,” said Gabriel.
As he filed out of the WOW Bus with the other students, he snagged a goodie bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss and an application to use the WOW Bus on a regular basis. He is eager to get that tooth filled and get back into a routine of regularly seeing the dentist.
* The student’s name has been changed to protect their identity.