Sun Life Family Health Center
PINAL COUNTY – Sun Life Family Health Center’s oral health initiative got a boost
this month when First Things First (FTF) approved a $330,000 grant so that they can continue to
serve kids 0-5 and expecting mothers in Pinal County.
The three-year mobile dental program at Sun Life has grown to an extensive countywide
program that reaches over 2,000 kids a year. The First Things First grant has a lot to do with that,
Sun Life Mobile Dental Coordinator Diane Nystrom says.
“Without this grant, our mobile
dental program would have suffered,”
Nystrom said. “We could have done a
little bit without these funds, but not on
the scale that First Things First has
allowed us to do.”
The grant will pay for the
salaries of four staff members over the
next year, which includes a full-time
and part-time hygienist, a dental
assistant/program coordinator, a driver
for the organization’s mobile dental
van, and part of Nystrom’s salary. The
team provides screenings and fluoride
varnish at county Head Start schools and community events, gives goody bags to the children
screened that include coloring books related to dental health as well as dental hygiene materials
such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss, and also provides oral health and nutrition education
to moms as well as children at preschools, kindergarten classes and daycares.
Future treatment options Sun Life hopes to include with the van in the next few years
would be dental exams and cleanings, x-rays, fillings, extractions, and referrals.
First Things First started in Arizona in November 2006 after voters passed Proposition
203, an initiative that created a voluntary system that funds quality early childhood development
“Through First Things First (FTF), Arizona has committed to ensuring that our youngest
kids have the tools they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond,” the organization says on
The entire program is funded through a dedicated tax on tobacco products. With those
funds, FTF improves and expands early education and health services for kids aged birth to 5
years. Decisions about services funded are made by 31 regional councils composed of local
volunteers, whom represent “a diverse cross-section of the community.”
“I just can’t say enough about what a wonderful program First Things First is,” Nystrom
said. “It’s a huge program that helps so many people. And in the time I’ve worked with First
Things First, I’ve met so many caring, dedicated people helping kids in the community in so
The goal of the organization is to “have a state where every child is ‘Ready for School.’”
And great dental health is just one more aspect in a child’s readiness to learn. According
to Nystrom at Sun Life, any dental problem could lead to pain and affect a child’s ability to pay
attention in class, and could also potentially mean time out of school.
With this grant, though, the Sun Life mobile dental team is able to screen children for
problems before they become one. This is especially important for children in remote rural areas
in Pinal County, Nystrom says, who may not have regular dental exams. Sun Life’s mobile
dental unit has also managed to greatly surpass its initial goal this year to serve 2200 children in
Pinal County by 500 children. Nystrom says she expects the numbers to be similar this year.
“I think that there is a lot more awareness. And the kids are happy to see us. We bring the
van so that the kids have a good experience. The van really caters to kids, so their first dentist
visit is a happy one. And I always say, it’s the hugs we get from the kids that make it all worth
Visit www.azftf.gov/Pages/default.aspx to read about First Things First. To learn more
about Sun Life’s mobile dental services or to find a schedule of locations and community events
they will be offering their free services, visit www.sunlifefamilyhealth.org, call Diane Nystrom
at (480) 560-7526, or email her at Diane.Nystrom@slfhc.org.