SMILE STARTERS: ECU dental students and residents launch families toward improved oral health

When 8-year-old Lillington resident Leiah Patrick took home a flier from school inviting her to a children’s dental care event at the local ECU School of Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Center, her mother Brenda jumped at the chance to have her daughter screened for oral health problems.

During the Feb. 4 Give Kids a Smile event, Leiah and 50 other Harnett County children hopped up into dental chairs and allowed teams of dentists, dental residents and students, dental hygienists, and dental assistants to screen their mouths for cavities, broken teeth, infections and other potentially threatening oral health problems.

The teams also delivered cleanings, sealants and fluoride treatments that will help defend the children’s primary and adult teeth from cavities in the short run.

Although Leiah didn’t have cavities, many of her peers did, along with infections and a range of other oral health problems.

“I’m so happy about what’s happened here for Leiah,” said her mother. “Everybody has been wonderful. I’m really glad this center is here. We’ll definitely come back.”

Several parents scheduled follow-up appointments for their children to begin receiving care from the center’s dental faculty, residents, fourth-year dental students and staff. ECU offers dental care at reduced cost and accepts patients enrolled in North Carolina dental Medicaid.

The American Dental Association Foundation’s Give Kids a Smile program is the annual centerpiece of National Children’s Dental Health Month. In early February, many of the nation’s dentists provide free oral health care services to underserved children across the country while aiming to increase awareness of the ongoing challenges that disadvantaged children face in accessing dental care.

“Give Kids a Smile is another avenue for our school to improve oral health by letting kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see a dentist come in and receive screenings so they can get started on improving their oral health,” said Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the dental school.

“These events also raise awareness of our state’s access-to-care challenge and help get the public and community leaders engaged.”

On Feb. 3 in Greenville, ECU School of Dental Medicine faculty, residents, students and staff joined forces with the East Central Dental Society to hold a Give Kids a Smile event at the office of Eastern Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry. Local dentists and volunteers completed crowns, extractions, fillings, x-rays and sealants for 100 children.

A display showing the amount of sugar in popular beverages caught the attention of many children and parents. Most were surprised to learn that a 12-ounce can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar.

“There is a lot of public education to be done concerning oral health care,” said Dr. Christopher Cotteril, the dental school’s division director of pediatric dentistry. “Events like Give Kids a Smile are important, but families need to take responsibility for their oral health. Cavities are a preventable disease in most cases, and a daily regimen of brushing and flossing along with controlling diet and seeing a dental professional regularly can save suffering and expense.”

“Parents of young children need to know they cannot just hand a toothbrush to a 2-year-old and expect them to brush effectively. Brushing and flossing need to be supervised until children can do a good job on their own; for most children, that’s about the age of 8.”

The dental school’s Community Service Learning Centers in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City and Brunswick county also recently provided screenings, cleanings and fluoride treatments for local children. The Davidson County center will hold an event Feb. 11.

Many other health care organizations participated in Give Kids a Smile across the various locations, offering health screenings, nutrition information, medicine adherence counseling and referral services. Partners included the Pitt County Health Department, ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, ECU’s College of Nursing, James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at Vidant Medical Center, Harnett County Health Department, Campbell University and Central Carolina Community College.

Since Give Kids a Smile began in 2003, more than 21,950 volunteers across North Carolina have provided over $13.7 million in dental care to more than 185,000 children, according to the North Carolina Dental Society.

Feb. 6, 2017
By Peggy Novotny
University Communication