(WJLA) - There's some good news when it comes to oral health for school children. A recent Maryland assessment shows a 41 percent drop in the number of untreated tooth decay cases between 2001 and 2011.
On Wednesday, dozens of students at Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Prince George's County paid a visit to the dentist, but all they had to do was step outside and into a van.
"I'm here to get my tooth brushed," said 3rd grader Mariam Sadeq.
The clinic on wheels bears the name of Deamonte Driver. Seven years ago an untreated dental infection led to his death at the age of 12.
"The infection got so bad it spread to his brain," said Dr. Deboney Hughes, a dentist with the Deamonte Driver Dental Project.
His story spurred a statewide movement.
"We really responded in a way where we try to provide more access to care," said Dr. Harry Goodman with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In Prince George's County, that meant bringing mobile clinics to the schools.
"We don't serve as the children's dental home, but we try to address immediate needs to prevent any serious complications, said Hughes.
Alexia Deloatth, Driver's cousin, is now part of this project. She said, "It's mainly because of him."
Health officials believe this initiative along with other reforms have paid off.
"Untreated tooth decay rates are down...down dramatically over the last 10 years," said Goodman.
Dr. Hughes said it's all about taking preventive measures with sealants and fluoride treatments, which are both offered on the van.
Dental screenings on the mobile clinic are free to students, and schools work with the program to arrange the visits. There's a greater focus at the elementary school level since permanent molars come in between the ages of 6 and 9.