Preventative screenings performed by volunteers in Moffat County schools turned up results that startled officials.
Of the nearly 1,000 students who underwent dental screenings in October, 144 were referred to immediate full-scale services because they showed visible decay.
"What concerns me the most is this is just visible decay," Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition Director Debbie Harmon said. "There are more forms (of decay) that can be found with X-rays. This is real serious.
"I try to communicate to parents that this isn't like having a cold.
"It's not just going away. It's a bacteria that spreads to other teeth."
But pleading and explanations are often useless. There is no solution for many of those students, she said.
Many are either insured by Medicaid, which no dentist in Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Grand or Jackson counties will accept, or they're not insured at all.
"When we get our clinic open, we can just send these kids there, but until then they don't have many options, " Harmon said.
Students in kindergarten through fifth grade and in seventh grade were screened.
Preschoolers and ninth-graders will be screened during National Children's Oral Health Month in February.
The school district can bill Medicaid, district nurse Terri Jourgensen said, so she hopes to reimburse the two dental hygienists who volunteered to perform the screenings this year.
School officials, too, were concerned with the results.
"That's not only a health issue, that's an education issue," Assistant Superintendent of Schools Joel Sheridan said.
The dental coalition also facilitates oral hygiene instruction and toothbrush distributions.
"We really are trying to pound on prevention," Harmon said. "We've doubled our education efforts this year. Our goal is to get ahead of the curve and spend more money on prevention than on treatment."
Jourgensen said she sent about 200 letters to parents, telling them their children needed to see a dentist, and followed up with phone calls.
Many have followed through, she said.
Members of the Craig Lions Club were also in the schools in October to conduct vision screenings.
The club uses a special camera to take an image of a child's eye. From that, an optometrist can diagnose seven conditions, including nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, glaucoma and cataracts.
Optometrist Ron Danner donates his time to review the pictures.
Of the 235 preschool and kindergarten students who were screened, 17 were referred for further services.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or firstname.lastname@example.org.