College News

CCCC Dental Program hosts 'Give Kids A Smile' event

Click to enlarge,  Free dental services were provided at the Central Carolina Community College Give Kids A Smile event.

click image to enlarge ⊗

Free dental services were provided at the Central Carolina Community College Give Kids A Smile event. ... (more)

Click to enlarge,  Dental care was the top mission at the Central Carolina Community College Give Kids A Smile event.

click image to enlarge ⊗

Dental care was the top mission at the Central Carolina Community College Give Kids A Smile event. ... (more)

04.14.2023College & CommunityCollege GeneralCurriculum ProgramsSpecial Events

SANFORD, N.C. - As two dental students bent over their young patient, you could sense the child was getting a little nervous about the entire experience.

Leaning back in the chair and decked out in blue and yellow sunglasses to cut the bright light shining into her mouth, the little girl never said a word. But as she started breathing more heavily and reached slowly toward one of her attendants, dental assisting student Anahi Vivas took the child's hand with a firm grasp and gave some reassuring words.

"This is the last one and you're doing great," Dental Hygiene student Jessica Keller said as she applied sealants to the child's teeth. "I'm going to count all the way down again. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. Twenty-seven. Twenty-six ...." And when she finally got down to one, it was time for everyone to celebrate. "You did it!" Keller said. "You were great, and now you're done!"

The tiny patient still never said a word. But she did exhale deeply and smile. No doubt, a sense of accomplishment. And probably a sense of relief.

Giving Kids a Smile

This wasn't the only young patient receiving dental care one recent Friday morning at Central Carolina Community College. The clinic with about 20 large cubicles, each one furnished with a dental chair and state-of-the-art equipment, was full of students from Broadway Elementary School participating in this year's Give Kids A Smile, a national outreach organized by the ADA Foundation, a philanthropic and charitable arm of the American Dental Association.

Give Kids A Smile was launched nationally in 2003 to provide underserved children with free oral health care. The ADA Foundation website sums up the project this way: "Each year approximately 6,500 dentists and 30,000 dental team members volunteer at local GKAS events to provide free oral health education, screenings, preventative and restorative treatment to over 300,000 children."

CCCC has been part of Give Kids A Smile since 2007, focusing primarily on preventative care for children enrolled in Lee County Schools, though everything was paused during the pandemic. This year's event, held on March 31, was the first in three years and was slightly smaller than usual as organizers worked to revive the event.

The process is still the same. The nursing supervisor for Lee County Schools selects the participating school based on student needs at the time, with the college dental staff beginning patient screening in the fall. Dental care is focused here on preventative care, primarily on applying dental sealants, a thin plastic coating on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth that can prevent cavities for many years to come. X-rays, cleanings and other care is provided based on children's specific needs.

But this morning wasn't all about preventative dental care. While some of their classmates were in the chair, others were waiting their turn by enjoying activities all up and down the corridor outside the clinic door. At one end of the hallway were physical activities led by CCCC Health & Fitness students and organized by instructor Dr. Carl Bryan. At the other was a particularly popular stop: a room with tasty snacks and engaging videos.

In between, there was more. One room where children had their faces painted by amateur artists, one artist whose body of work included an interesting abstract interpretation of the Batman logo. And another room where children got tips on brushing teeth by practicing on large stuffed animals embedded with sets of human-looking teeth, a slightly alarming image for some adults, but apparently something the children didn't notice at all.

Wielding the gigantic toothbrush seemed like an especially big attraction. At some point, each student was pulled away from the brushing activity for a few basic health checks -- CCCC Medical Assisting students led by instructor Melissa Fogarty took blood pressure, tested vision and checked heights and weights -- but when that was done, the critters with human teeth quickly lured the children back.

Not Just One Day

For many of the young patients today, it was their first trip to the dentist ever -- and, for others, their first in a very long time. For some families, the big obstacle may be money or parents not being able to get off from work for an appointment during the day. For others, it may be a common misunderstanding about how important dental care is, even for children.

CCCC Clinical Manager Chrishinda Horton, who organized Give Kids A Smile, said many parents assume that problems with baby teeth aren't as serious, since they eventually fall out to be replaced by adult teeth. But that misunderstanding can lead to two serious problems. One, any condition that might be easily resolved early ends up becoming more damaging and especially painful. The other, baby teeth hold the space for adult teeth later to grow. Keeping baby teeth healthy means adult teeth can come in straighter and be healthier.

Dr. Antonio Braithwaite, a board-certified pediatric dentist who supervised the clinic and consulted with dental professionals on site, said this kind of event is essential because it helps all members of the community gain access to affordable health care, no matter what income they earn or what kind of insurance they may (or may not) have. Access to affordable health care, he said, is essential for the entire community to prosper.

He backs up his words with action. As head of Sanford Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Braithwaite is a regular at CCCC's Give Kids A Smile and this year brought with him Dr. Anthony Brown, one of his colleagues. If some of the children need more advanced care, Dr. Braithwaite will refer them to dental providers in the community and often bring them into his own private practice for additional treatment at no charge.

"We have a joke in our office where we say that we 'give kids a smile' every day," Dr. Braithwaite said. "And so, today is no different. It's just our continued service to the community, so we can have kids as healthy as they can possibly be, and so they can go forward and be prosperous in life."

The college also does its part well beyond this one-day Give Kids A Smile event. If patients need more treatment, they can come back to the clinic later for additional, free preventative care and even bring their siblings with them. Horton said the CCCC Dental Hygiene Clinic provides free preventative care to children and adults throughout the community while giving college students the hours of hands-on experience they need to graduate.

A lot of serious things are happening this morning at Give Kids A Smile; at the same time, there's a lot of fun. And that's what seems to make this annual event so special. "The children see this as a field trip," Horton said. "But we're packing them full of knowledge. And to see them walk away with a smile, knowing that if it weren't for this that some of them would not have access to dental care, it shows that we're opening doors. And that's exciting."