A group of about 65 students from 17 different schools throughout the Forsyth County school system took a special field trip Friday.
The children, who ranged in grade from elementary to high school, took part in Give Kids a Smile Day.
The national event invites dental professionals to provide free services to children whose families don’t have insurance or for other reasons can’t afford to provide proper dental care.
Six dental practices volunteered their services for this year’s local event, which is organized in conjunction with United Way of Forsyth County.
They included: Advanced Dental Associates; Forsyth Dental Partners; Cumming Dental Care; Dentistry for Children; O’Rourke Family Dentistry; and Leslie Hehir.
Melissa Durand, a dentist with Forsyth Dental Partners, said participating is always a positive experience.
“We love doing it because it’s a way to give back to the community,” she said. “We get to help people who cannot come to the dentist any other time.”
Robert Joiner, a dentist at Advanced Dental Associates, agreed the event is always meaningful.
“We have a lot of kids, a lot of needs out there,” he said. “But they’ve all been great … they’re real appreciative and their parents are all real appreciative.”
The kids receive a range of services from the dental offices, including cleanings and X-rays, fluoride treatments, cavity fillings and sealants on permanent teeth to prevent future decay.
Deborah Porres, another Advanced Dental Associates dentist, said she has noticed a shift in the types of care the students need over the past nine years she’s been with the office.
“I’m seeing more of change because in the beginning it was more putting out fires and now it’s a lot more prevention,” she said. “We realize instead of trying to play catch-up, we should teach prevention so the same things don’t happen to the permanent teeth … we’re stressing how to brush, to floss, those things.”
Connie Trent, who heads up all school nurses in the county and helps organize the event, said those efforts seem to be paying off as fewer students needed help this year.
“The last two years we’ve taken about 100 kids, so it is a little lower this year,” she said. “We’re finding more children to have Peach Care and Medicaid.
“Also I think we’re finally starting to catch up because we’re doing [Give Kids a Smile Day] every year … kids are getting some needs met so they don’t have to go back as often.”
Durand said she and her staff try to make the day fun for the students.
“We tell them things like, ‘We’re going to tickle the cavity bugs out of this tooth. They don’t like to be tickled so they jump out and Mr. Thirsty drinks them all up,’” she said.
Students at every office also get to take home a “goodie bag” with toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss.
The day is truly special for most of the students, Trent said.
“There was one student [from a high school] who had never been to a dentist before and a couple of others had only been twice and they were in high school,” she said. “And one little boy said, ‘I’ve never had floss of my own before.’ He was so excited to get that.”
According to Trent, planning the event can be a lot of work, but the results are worth it.
“To be healthy, your mouth needs to be healthy too so you can get proper nutrition and rest,” she said. “Because if your tooth hurts, you know, you’re not sleeping well either.
“So it’s important just for their overall well-being, plus the social part of it too. They want their teeth to look nice and give them confidence.”