On the first Friday in February, MCHD Dentistry, the bustling and pleasant dental office at Monongalia County Health Department, turns the activity up a couple of notches.
Balloons anchored by toothbrushes decorate the hallways. A table offers brochures, information and a lion plushie with human-looking teeth that kids can use to practice brushing with a giant toothbrush.
Give Kids a Smile not only provides children up to the age of 18 without insurance a free dental cleaning and checkup, but it also offers a friendly and fun introduction to an important way to stay healthy that often goes overlooked.
“Most kids go into those offices and see all the tools and hear the sounds that can be terrifying and traumatizing,” said M.J. Zink of Morgantown, whose two children, Corabelle and Luke, have attended Give Kids a Smile in the past.
Instead, Zink noted, the event is “exposing them at a young age to a friendly atmosphere. It’s good for the kids to be exposed. It’s a great first impression. I wish I would have had something like this when I was a kid.”
This year’s Give Kids a Smile will be celebrated Friday. Children will receive a tooth cleaning, a dental checkup and oral education. There also is the possibility that some restorative work — such as filling a cavity — will be performed.
“Our focus is on providing free preventative services to children without insurance,” said Dr. Dan Carrier, dentist and program manager of MCHD Dentistry, who noted that a chair will be kept open at this year’s event for that very purpose. “I think what we’re looking at now is the impact we have with kids who are here. In the past, we haven’t had space to be able to fix teeth. We’re now trying to do that more.”
For a child a visit to MCHD Dentistry depends on the age. Babies and toddlers on their first trip to the dentist might sit in a parent’s lap while Dr. Carrier examines the teeth and applies a fluoride treatment.
“I always say the first visit is more for the parent than the child,” Carrier said.
It also helps get the child accustomed to the bright lights of a dental visit, from the safety of a parent’s lap. Older children will have a more routine cleaning and exam.
The American Dental Association launched Give Kids a Smile in 2003 and since then, 5.5 million children have received care from about 10,000 dentists across the country. MCHD Dentistry has been participating since 2011, when about 20 children participated during the inaugural event.
As illustrated by statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids can be prone to cavities that will go untreated if they do not visit a dentist. About 1 in 5 children ages 5 to 11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth, while that number is 1 in 7 for adolescents ages 12 to 19 years. And, at 25%, children ages 5 to 19 years of age from low-income families are twice as likely to have cavities than children from higher-income households. That figure is 11%.
The CDC also notes, “Poor oral health can have a detrimental effect on children’s quality of life, their performance at school and their success later in life.”
Conversely, fun and productive visits to the dentist early on can set up habits that will help give kids healthy teeth for a lifetime.
“It’s a phenomenal experience and outreach to the community,” Zink said. “When we go in there, everyone is so happy and polite. It’s exciting for my children to pick out what color toothbrush they want.
“And the staff are fantastic. They are just so kind and welcoming.”
To make an appointment for Give Kids a Smile, call MCHD Dentistry at 304-598-5108.
Contact Mary Wade Triplett at 304-598-5152 or at MaryWade.Triplett@wv.gov. Contact MCHD at 304-598-5100 and find out more about MCHD at monchd.org, on Facebook and Twitter @wvmchd and on Instagram at #wvmchd.