Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Blue Ribbon Foundation of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, 200 youngsters have a head start on their dental health.

Among the children taking part in the Happy Kids Mobile Dental Van visit on Monday was 3-year-old Ashlynn Anthony of Lehighton.

The dental exam was part of her orientation to attend classes at Head Start of Carbon County. She sat patiently waiting in the dental chair as Dr. Jason Kishel, D.M.D. cleaned her teeth using a bubblegum flavored cream and gave her a fluoride treatment.

Since the cleaning was Ashlynn's first time she had seen a dentist, she was a little apprehensive, but Dr. Kishel explained what he was doing as he performed the exam and also threw in some educational hints to her mom, Melissa George.

Dr. Kishel explained that children Ashlynn's age should not be drinking more that 4 to 6 ounces of juice a day, plus encouraged her mom to brush her daughter's teeth every morning and evening and to use dental floss. After a high five to both Dr. Kishel and Justin Miller, Dr. Kishel's assistant and van driver, both she and her mom were on their way.

Dr. Kishel said that the van will visit Head Start every month or so to perform routine exams and cleanings for un or under insured children in Carbon County.

Carbon County Partners for Progress has provided dental services to more than 2,000 uninsured and low-income children through the "Healthy Smiles, Happy Kids" dental van program.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania has helped the program reach at-risk kids by providing $35,000 in grants since 2006 because not enough children are getting the dental care they need.

Dr. Kishel has an awesome chair side manner. He is also known as the dentist who has filled 4,600 cavities in just over two years.

More than 2,000 children had been seen by the dental team, providing more than 4,000 cleanings and applied more than 6,000 sealants since the program began. Their active patient roster currently lists more than 1,100 children in Carbon County area.

Blue Ribbon grant funds have been used for supplies like gloves, masks and filling materials and preventive tools like tooth brushes, toothpaste and floss for kids without dental insurance.

"People think that because they are baby teeth, you don't have to worry about them," said Dr. Kishel. "You have to start young to teach them proper dental care. Some parents truly don't know how to take care of their kids' teeth, and the kids won't know, either. With this program, we're taking care of the problems they have now and preventing them from having more in the future."

"There are new families moving into the area and people lose insurance," said Cynthia Yevich, executive director of Blue Ribbon Foundation. "There are new children every year who need these services. The children are learning about good oral hygiene and healthy habits that will last a lifetime."

Yevich said that Blue Ribbon Foundation is seeking to offer more grants to non profit organizations who provide health and wellness programs to the public. The funding cycle runs quarterly. For more information on funding priorities, application deadlines and eligibility criteria, see the website at [1].