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Dental pros, students volunteer services for children who need care
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Volunteers donned T-shirts Friday for “Give Kids a Smile” day at Lanier Technical College, including shirts referencing the movie “Despicable Me” and its characters. - photo by NAT GURLEY

More than 200 kids from Hall County and Gainesville schools took a trip to the dentist Friday.

As part of the national “Give Kids a Smile” event, about 150 dental professionals and volunteers from across North Georgia came together to provide easily accessible dental care to qualifying children and to raise awareness of the lack of dental care for some children.

“Especially during tough economic times, dental care is one of the things a lot of parents don’t consider a priority when they are making financial decisions,” said Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for the Hall County school system.

Nearly 1 in 4 children between ages 2 and 11 have untreated tooth decay or cavities, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and each child in that group has an average of 1.6 decayed primary teeth.

“Even students that have Medicaid or Peachcare, have difficulty finding enough local dental providers,” Coker said. “We have a lot of students that our school nurses see that have dental issues like decay. It is hard to sit in a classroom and learn when you have toothaches.”

The staff was made up of dentists, hygienists and assistants that came from areas as far as Johns Creek and Cleveland as well as students from Lanier Technical College’s dental programs, which also provided facilities.

The staff’s primary goal was to identify teeth that are infected or need to be treated as soon as possible, provide treatment or refer the patients to other local dentists and to instill in the children the importance of good dental hygiene.

“It is pretty much our way to give back,” said Dr. Matthew Vaughn, a dentist with BGW Dental Group in Gainesville who participated in yesterday’s event. “Either we are identifying problems we can address elsewhere or address anything emergent today.

“And hopefully we will instill some knowledge in them today as well.”

According to the school’s dental hygiene program director Dr. David Byers, events like “Give Kids a Smile” help the school meet its requirements for accreditation and allow dental students to see more children, who are often unable to visit the college’s clinic because of their own school schedules.

“We volunteered for ‘Give Kids a Smile’ last year, but it was different though, because there were several different dental offices, so having it all in one place has helped things run very smoothly,”said Tiffany South, a senior in the college’s dental hygiene program. “It’s not stressful, it is joyous.

“We get to volunteer at a lot of places because we are students, and I love it.”

The students who qualified for the program were identified through the school system and represented 41 different schools in Hall County and Gainesville. The school system brought students on buses to allow those whose parents are unable to take off work or provide adequate transportation to receive care.

Many students had never seen a dentist before.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been to (a dentist). I’ve never had that much of a problem with my teeth, and it was very good; no cavities,” said J.D. Williams, a 12-year-old student from West Hall Middle School.

Not all students were as excited as J.D., however. Camisha Young, a fourth-grader from Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science, was nervously waiting to be seen by a volunteer when she said she doesn’t like going to the dentist because it hurts.

When asked if she thought it was important, Camisha reluctantly said “yes.”

While they were waiting to see a dentist or to leave, the children played in waiting rooms where “Give Kids a Smile” provided inflatable toys and a magician to entertain them.

“Give Kids a Smile” was first started by the American Dental Association in 2003 as a way for dentists to join others in the community to provide dental services to underserved children.

Today, about 450,000 children around the U.S. are provided screenings, treatments and education through more than 1,500 events. Hall County’s program has been organized by the Northern District Dental Society for the past five years.