Children’s Dental Services program serving middle school students

By Alex Karwowski

Children’s Dental Services (CDS) is providing oral health education to more than 600 Murray Middle School students on the dangers of vaping and using tobacco products.

The CDS program comes after winning a grant from the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation to conduct the project whose goal is to stop and deter student tobacco use, including vaping.

CDS was one of 16 local nonprofit organizations to receive a grant last year, said Julie Drechsler, executive director for the SAP Community Foundation. Its grant is $2,000.

 “The Children’s Dental Service was a new applicant in 2023 and the SAP Community Foundation was impressed with their proposal,” Drechsler said.

CDS Executive Director Sarah Wovcha said children as young as 9 years old are exposed to commercial tobacco products.    

The community grant is creating an accessible space at Murray staffed with trusted individuals to talk about the dangers of tobacco use. Wovcha said without any formal education on the risks of commercial tobacco products, there may not be anyone talking to students about its impacts.

“(The students are) just beginning to be at the age where they’re more likely to take risks; that’s normal for the adolescent brain,” she said.

Flavors like bubble gum, and packaging made to look like technological devices, only spark the curiosity of adolescents.

The foundation recognized the importance of providing preventative substance abuse education to the middle school students.

“We know there are strong links between oral health and general health and wellbeing,” Drechsler said. “We know the students will directly benefit from the program delivered by the Children’s Dental Services.”

That seems to be happening.

Wovcha said after receiving the education, students reported they are electing to be more careful in deciding whether they want to use an addictive substance.

Wovcha said CDS was founded more than 100 years ago by a group of women who provided care to orphans who lost their caregivers to the Spanish Flu. The organization has become Minnesota’s largest school-based provider of dental services to low-income families.

“We have a specialty of delivering dental services on site where kids naturally congregate, like in schools, Head Start centers, community centers and shelters,” Wovcha said.

“There are scarce resources, especially in the realm of providing services for lower income, children and families,” Wovcha added. “We wouldn’t be able to do that without our local philanthropy.” 

Alex Karwowski is a University of Minnesota journalism student and intern reporter for the Bugle.

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