Free dental clinic leaves patients smiling
Fifteen-year-old Javier Montejo Silva had never visited a dentist until Friday.
In his native Mexico, dentists are expensive, and his family doesn’t have money to burn.
But Javier left a free dental clinic Friday at the Durham County Department of Public Health with shiny teeth and a smile. He got X-rays and a teeth cleaning, and is now ready to start classes at Northern High School on Monday.
“It was kind of weird,” Javier said of having dental tools inside his mouth. He said there was a little pain, but that the result was worth the discomfort.
“This was the first time somebody worked on my mouth,” he said. “But now I have clean teeth. It’s been a good day.”
Javier was one of 26 patients who got $6,000 worth of donated services at the Back to School Smiles clinic, held at the Durham County Human Services Building on East Main Street.
They included Freddy Lorenzo’s three children – ages 12, 16 and 17.
His 16-year-old son, Jason Morales, was diagnosed with a gum cyst, and will have it treated later at UNC’s dental school in Chapel Hill.
Lorenzo, a 41-year-old window installer who recently brought his family to Durham from Honduras, said the clinic saved him a lot of money.
Diane Boucher brought her 11-year-old son, Michael, to the clinic because she has no dental insurance.
The family moved to Durham recently from Massachusetts, where she said housing costs are higher.
Boucher said Michael has orthodontic problems and that without the clinic, it would have been hard to pay for his dental work.
Durham dentist John Christensen, who donated his services Friday, said one patient he saw needs “comprehensive care,” and will have it done at the UNC dental school.
Luckily, Christensen teaches at the school, so he’ll do the work.
“He had problems that could have grown into bigger ones down the road,” Christensen said, “so I was pleased that we got to see this young man.”
Christensen said it’s disheartening to see children and adolescents with tooth and gum problems that could have been prevented.
“Generally, the mouth is the entry point to the body, and dictates a lot of overall health,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we’re not getting to the 20 percent of those who tend to have major dental problems. As a pediatric dentist, the real push is to have mothers bring their kids in when they’re young, and avoid getting them into that 20 percent.”
Another Durham dentist, Vincent Allison III, said free dental clinics fill a big need.
“There are so many kids out there that either don’t have private insurance or for whatever reason are unable to qualify for Medicaid,” he said. “So this is kind of a safety net.”
Allison said dental problems hurt overall health and prevent children from doing their best in the classroom.
“If they’re in pain, they can’t do well in school, so it’s very important that we try to maintain healthy teeth in our kids,” he said. “Advancements in dental care have really improved over the years. But the unfortunate thing is that so many people can’t afford the care, and don’t have access to it. And when they finally get access, we see problems that could have been prevented.”