Mikhail Conrad’s first visit to the dentist took place after he had just spent time at a hospital, said his mother Tina, so he was not very happy to undergo more treatment.
But these days, Mikhail is a pro. On Friday, he sat patiently as dental assistant Stacy Croston cleaned his teeth as part of Give Kids a Smile at Monongalia County Health Department’s MCHD Dentistry.
“They worked with him, and now he just — you see, he just went in by himself,” Conrad said from her car. “He didn’t want me to go in.”
And that’s a key goal of Give Kids a Smile, which provides dental cleanings and checkups to children 18 and younger who don’t have dental insurance.
“We do everything we can to make it a positive day for the kids,” said Dr. Daniel Carrier, program manager for MCHD Dentistry.
After all, it’s important to instill good dental habits in children early on. That not only includes teaching them to brush and floss twice a day, but also to visit the dentist every six months for checkups, restorative work if needed and oral health education.
Established by the American Dental Association in 2003, Give Kids a Smile encourages dentists to hold events across the country. Each year roughly 6,500 dentists and 30,000 dental team members volunteer at local GKAS events to provide free oral health education, screenings, and preventive and restorative treatment to more than 300,000 children, according to information on the ADA’s website.
MCHD Dentistry has participated every year since 2011, in spite of some challenges. Those have included snowstorms that hit on the first Friday in February, the day the event is traditionally held, in spite of otherwise mild winters, during the past two events. The snowstorms impacted attendance but also led to a new goal of providing more restorative work to the patients who do show up.
This year, of course, MCHD Dentistry had better weather but also had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents were allowed to come in with their children, but they also could choose to wait in the car, as Conrad did, to promote social distancing.
Other precautions taken this year included temperatures taken at the door, a questionnaire, air purifiers in treatment rooms, and N-95 masks and face shields that were worn by providers.
In addition to the typical helium balloons tethered by tubes of toothpaste for children to take home, this year’s décor also included floor stickers reminding everyone to remain six feet apart.
For the first time this year, Give Kids a Smile benefited from the presence of a second dentist. Dr. Youseph Kassar joined MCHD Dentistry last summer. His role in Friday’s event was to provide the restorative care, such as fillings and extractions, when necessary.
Early in the morning, he had already done a couple of each. The concept of Give Kids a Smile was not new to him, as he had participated in a couple during dental school at WVU School of Dentistry.
“It’s good to give back,” Kassar said. “It’s good to see kids who wouldn’t normally see a dentist.”
Kassar enjoyed interacting with his young patients. “And then they leave with a balloon,” he said. “It’s a festive day.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood in the United States. Left untreated, cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing and learning.
Also, the CDC reports, about 1 in 5 children ages 5 to 11 years old have at least one untreated decayed tooth, as do about 1 in 7 adolescents ages 12 to 19. And at 25%, children ages 5 to 19 years old from low-income families are twice as likely to have cavities than children from higher-income households. That figure is 11%.
Sometimes, children just need a little nudge from a dentist. Tongju Guan, who brought her children Larry and Laura Du, said they don’t always listen to her.
“But the dentist is very thoughtful and nice,” she said. “If the doctor tells them to do that, they really follow their direction.”
For up-to-date information on health and wellness in Monongalia County, check out monchd.org and follow the health department on Facebook and Twitter @WVMCHD and on Instagram at #wvmchd.