Dentists bridge a gap at free clinic for kids

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 05:35 PM

Dentists brought out smiles in more than 40 youngsters Friday as they filled a deep need for dental services at a free clinic.

The annual drill at Give Kids A Smile Day at the Durham County Department of Public Health included cleanings, X-rays and more.

When the day ended, 44 patients had received nearly $10,000 in free oral health services.

The dental team of public health dentists and volunteers from the UNC School of Pediatric Dentistry deftly worked its magic to keep kids as young as 4 with their mouths open without screaming.

Some even thought it was fun.

Diedra Solomon brought her 6-year-old son, Raheem, for X-rays, cleaning and a look at a baby tooth he chipped at school. It ended well.

“He likes the dentist,” Solomon said. “He likes the instruments, and thinks it’s fun. I don’t know how long that’s going to last.”

After his procedures, Raheem was upbeat and smiling.

“The most fun part was the [squirting] water,” he said.

Solomon said Raheem, a kindergartner at Pearsontown Elementary School, is already “a ladies’ man,” so it’s important for him to maintain good oral hygiene.

For 11-year-old David Morrison, the initial fear of visiting the dentist fizzled after he had his teeth cleaned and X-rayed.

“At first, I was kind of nervous, but I got over it, and then everything was fine,” David, a student at Kestrel Heights Middle School, said as he held his bag of prizes – toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.

Jordan High School student Nathalie Gonzalez had gone five years without seeing a dentist until Friday, but the only bad news she got is that her teeth need straightening.

“They told me I should get braces,” she said. “I don’t like crooked teeth.”

Miriam McIntosh, director of dental practices at the Durham County Department of Public Health, said the annual clinic is a good way to give back to the community. She said many people don’t realize the department has a dental clinic that operates year-round, and includes a van that visits schools for oral screenings.

McIntosh said oral health is important for children, beginning with their first baby tooth, to prevent decay and the discomfort it can bring.

“Children cannot learn the basics if they are in pain,” she said. “So we want to reduce, if not eliminate, those occurrences.”

Jina Kang Yoo, a pediatric dentist and adjunct professor at the UNC Department of Pediatric Dentistry, said volunteering at the clinic was rewarding.

“It’s nice to see patients and not have them worry about the financial aspect – to allow them to have an exam and screening and let them know what they’ll need in the future. It’s just a fun day, where the faculty and staff can work together for a good cause.”