The dentist's office might be the last place kids would want to be on a Saturday morning, but on Feb. 2, more than 200 people were crowding the waiting room at The Dental Group in Lewes.
Dental hygienist student Kevin Toussaint, a volunteer, noticed 8-year-old Andrew Zamora was nervous. Armed with a stuffed animal and a giant toothbrush, he taught Andrew the proper way to brush. Toussaint said children like Andrew are the reason he participates in an annual, nationwide event called Give Kids a Smile, when dentists nationwide offer low-income children dental care, including cleanings, fillings, root canals and extractions.
Beside Andrew was 12-year-old Marcus Cadeza of Selbyville, who said the Give Kids a Smile event was his second visit to a dentist, but his first time in Lewes. He came for a cleaning.
In the waiting room, parents anxiously awaited their children to return. Seven-year-old Andrea Quixtan bounded through the door and announced to the room, "No cavities!"
"It's a top-notch event that brings out many families who wouldn't have access to dentistry regularly," said Dr. Thomas Conaty, a Wilmington dentist and part-time Lewes resident who has supported the program since its inception in Delaware 10 years ago.
Last year, the event connected 40,000 dental volunteers, including dentists, dental hygienists and dental students, with more than 400,000 underserved children nationwide. Held in a different location each year to ensure all children have access, this year, Give Kid's a Smile featured a second location in Wilmington.
The event targets children who do not have insurance and do not have access to Medicaid, said Dr. Blair Jones of The Dental Group, which hosted the original event in Delaware 10 years ago as well as this year's.
Missy Jones of The Dental Group worked with Sussex County Hispanic organizations to find children who most needed help. "This is a population that often falls through the cracks," he said. "We work with Spanish organizations to get the word out and make the biggest impact possible."
"Over the last 10 years, we have given $500,000 in free dental care through these events," said Dr. Brian McAllister of the Delaware State Dental Society.
When families arrive for dental care, they are separated by type. Some children just need cleanings, while others have higher-priority dental needs. While the goal of the event is to take care of the kid's teeth, in some cases not all procedures can be done that day. The dentists give families an action plan, which helps them take steps to improve dental health in the future.
"Our goal is to make the biggest impact on those without insurance and those unable to pay," McAllister said.
For more information, go to www.delawarestatedentalsociety.org.
Dental issues and children
• Dental decay is the most common chronic childhood diease
• More than 16 million children are suffering from untreated tooth decay in the U.S.
• Oral diseases cause children to miss 51 million school hours
• Low-income children have twice the number of untreated decayed teeth as compared to the general population.