Free dental clinic leaves kids smiling

Feb. 07, 2014 @ 05:31 PM

Eleven-year-old Nahuel Wangord broke into a big smile Friday after his time in the dentist’s chair.

He could be a poster child for how teeth should look: straight and white.

Nahuel was happy that all he needed was a good teeth-cleaning, and that’s what he got for free at the Durham County Department of Public Health’s 10th-annual Give Kids A Smile Day.

With help from dental professionals, 34 kids in financial need got $8,000 in free dental care at the Human Services Building on East Main Street.

Nahuel, a fourth-grader at Glenn Elementary School, has lived in Durham for the past seven months after moving from Argentina. He said he never visited a dentist there, but brushed his teeth every day. That paid off for him Friday, because the dentist found no serious problems.

On the other hand, 16-year-old Alejandro Villegas learned that he needs four filings and a painful tooth pulled.

The Riverside High School ninth-grader said Friday was his first visit to a dentist, who will do the drilling and extraction at a later date.

His mother, Ana Dominguez, said she was grateful for the free clinic and glad to learn what her son needs before the condition worsens.

That’s a key goal of the clinic – to catch problems before they grow out of control.

Dr. Theodore Brooks, a 77-year-old retired dentist who used to direct the health department’s dental clinic, was busy examining kids’ teeth Friday morning.

“Dentistry has been good to me,” he said. “This is a way of giving back.”

Brooks has looked into many mouths in his career, and is a big believer in catching problems before they deepen.

“A lot of times, getting a cleaning may reveal issues that, if ignored, can wind up with people having pain,” he said.

His advice is to brush and floss daily, especially right before bedtime, and visit a dentist every six months.

Doing double-duty as dentist and dental hygienist was Dr. Miriam McIntosh, director of dental practices at the health department. She’s worked at the Give Kids A Smile clinic all 10 years, and says it fills an important need.

“We have new people constantly coming into the community, and the economic situation for a number of citizens changes from time to time,” she said. “This is a way to let the community know that any child without dental insurance can make a dental home here.”

The clinic is open throughout the year, and charges patients based on family size and income. Some visits cost as little as $25.

Overall, she said, young children’s teeth appear healthier than in past years, mainly because of more dentists who serve that population and better-educated parents.

One father who needed no drill in prevention is Scott Caldwell of Durham, who brought his son and daughter to the clinic for cleanings.

Caldwell said he neglected his teeth when he was younger, but won’t let that happen to his children.

“You’ve got to take care of your teeth, man,” Caldwell said. “It’s the only set you have.”