Area dentists volunteer services to Give Kids a Smile

by Melissa Gute

Mountain Island Pediatric Dentistry’s dental assistant Rachel Green, back, reviews a teeth chart while Dr. Monique McEachern exams a 6-year-old child during the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile event Feb. 1. (Melissa Gute/MI Monitor photo)

CHARLOTTE – Dental insurance is a luxury many underprivileged children don’t have, preventing them access to care.

However, dentists in 16 Charlotte-area offices offered free services Feb. 1 to about 100 children during the American Dental Association’s annual Give Kids a Smile event.

Locally, the program is coordinated through a partnership with The Junior League of Charlotte Inc., Charlotte Dental Association, Communities in Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“The goal for Give Kids a Smile for Charlotte is to treat those children who have no other means of dental care,” JLC Children’s Dental Chairwoman Brittany Russell said.

Schools conduct screenings and refer children to the program.

On Feb. 1, JLC shuttled children from school to various dental offices to receive services ranging from preventive care to root canals, Russell said.

Each year, dental partners Jeffrey Pillippi and Dave Kwon, of Phillippi and Kwon Family Dentistry, offer their services to about a dozen children for Give Kids a Smile.

“The biggest problem we see is decay, hands down,” Phillippi said. “We’re always amazed at the amount of decay that is out there that goes untreated.”

Nearly one in four children ages 2-11 have untreated cavities in their primary, or “baby,” teeth, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s important for children to maintain healthy primary teeth because they hold space for permanent teeth, said Dr. Monique McEachern, with Mountain Island Pediatric Dentistry.

Her office serves an average of 15 children a year for Give Kids a Smile.

Large decay can cause a lot of toothaches and distract children from learning in school, McEachern said.

“(We want to do) anything we can do to put smiles on their faces and get them out of pain so they can focus in school,” she said.

Decay is often a result of “innocent negligence” where parents allow their children to eat too much “junk food,” Kwon said.

Between both offices, about $13,000-$21,000 worth of services are done at no cost during the one-day event, which the dentists see as a great way to give to the community.

“That’s something that I value as a person and brought into this practice,” McEachern said. “Everyone who works here values the same thing. We really enjoy helping in whatever way we can. We’re very fortunate to be in a position where we can help others.”

Many children come nervous, but leave feeling relieved, Kwon said.

“A lot of these kids have never seen a dentist,” he explained. “After we’re done, most of the kids are usually very grateful because some of them are coming in a lot of pain, and it’s our job to get them out of pain. Of the 25,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg students that were screened this year, 600 were eligible for Give Kids a Smile, according to Russell. Only about 100 received help. There were 225 spots available.

“That’s a little bit of a disappointment for us because we had identified so many other children,” she said, adding that many parents wouldn’t provide permission for their children to participate.

The number of area children served this year dropped from last year’s 150 children. About 70 participated in 2011, Russell said.

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