Free dental clinic brings smiles

Aug. 22, 2014 @ 06:00 PM

Dentists filled a big gap Friday by providing free care to low-income children as they prepare to begin school next week with bright smiles.

The Durham Department of Public Health served 22 children at its Back to School Smiles Day with $3,500 worth of exams, cleanings and X-rays.

One client, 12-year-old Roniyha Taborn, was already smiling before she sat in the dentist’s chair.

“I feel good about going to the dentist, because you get toys,” the Carrington Middle School student said.

Her mother, Angela Justice, called the free clinic “a blessing” for those who can’t afford to pay a private dentist.

“I think it’s important to look out for people who aren’t as fortunate,” she said. “Everyone is trying hard for their children to succeed in life, and that’s the most important thing at the end of the day.”

Dentist Felicia Swinney, who works at the health department, saw several children with cavities. They got appointments to have them filled later.

“We want to let them know what type of treatment they need,” she said. “It hurts me to see that decay.”

Swinney said it’s important to help parents understand the importance of regular dental care.

She said soft drinks contribute heavily to tooth decay.

“Kids don’t know how much sugar is in them, and they’re drinking a lot of them during the day,” she said.

Dr. Miriam McIntosh, director of dental practices at the health department, said parents should start bringing their children to a dentist at age 1 or when a baby’s first tooth appears.

The department’s dental clinic offers year-round care, with fees determined by a family’s size and income.

“We also have nutritionists who will help parents plan low-sugar meals for their kids to prevent decay,” she said. “Baby teeth are important, not only for aesthetics, but to preserve the arc for permanent teeth.”

When decay sets in, she said, it can be painful and prevent a child from paying attention in class.

“Then they can’t focus and get the foundation they need,” she said.

McIntosh said parents often try to ease a child’s tooth pain with candy or ice cream.

“It’s important for parents to train their children not to crave candy, cakes and snacks that will cause decay,” she said.

McIntosh examined a 7-year-old girl Friday who had been sucking her thumb several hours each day for years, preventing her front teeth from growing together.

Her advice to the child’s mother: Buy boxing gloves.

Tying on the gloves will prevent her from sticking fingers in her mouth and increase the chances her teeth will grow in correctly, she said.

“The best thing is to talk to the child and make them want to stop sucking their thumb,” McIntosh said. “Let them know that it’s messing up their smile and teeth.”

But the girl, Cecy Amador-Guifarro, otherwise had a beautiful smile.

“She had no cavities,” McIntosh said. “Thank goodness for that.”