With the recession leaving many local families in search of help, Dayton's Doctors of Dental Medicine answered the call earlier this month with a day of free dental care for kids.
Give Kids a Smile Day was celebrated across the nation on Feb. 1, as participating dentists, through the American Dental Association (ADA), provided free oral health care services to children from low-income families.
"This is a very different day for us, a charitable day, where we volunteer our time for children by donating free dental care," said dental hygienist Palma D’Angelo. "We provide free cleanings, x-rays, and whatever treatment we can do. If we can't do something today we can refer them to others who donate free care, extractions or orthodontic work."
One of the most pressing issues for young children is cavities and tooth decay, which Doctors of Dental Medicine focuses on during their patient visits on Give Kids a Smile Day.
"The big thing for kids is preventing cavities, especially for kids around 10-years-old," D’Angelo said. "This year we've been finding a lot of tooth decay. It's hard to pinpoint the exact cause because we don't know what they're eating, but there are some systemic issues."
Recently, over 9,000 dentists nationwide treated about 401,000 children during Give Kids a Smile, according to the ADA. The program is vital for the less fortunate to receive important care they may otherwise not have the means to obtain.
Through the work of volunteers, kids may be eligible to receive oral hygiene instructions, screenings, cleanings, x-rays, fillings, extractions, fluoride treatments, stainless steel crowns, and much more, according to the ADA.
D'Angelo estimated the total cost of dental care given away for free by Doctors of Dental Medicine to be thousands of dollars during Give Kids a Smile.
"This practice has been around since 1980 and we've always felt a responsibility to the community," said Dr. Richard Hirschlag, one of the dentists volunteering his time for Doctors of Dental Medicine. "We like to think globally and act locally, with food drives and coat drives for those in need."
Dr. Hirschlag's wife, Emmy Award-winning actress Julia Barr from the soap opera All My Children, also volunteered her time last year as a celebrity spokesperson for New Jersey’s Give Kids a Smile campaign.
"This day brings a certain kind of energy to the practice," Dr. Hirschlag said. "Everyone feels good at the end of the day. With so much of the population unable to pursue dental care, tooth decay has become a real problem. That's unfortunate because it doesn't have to be. But we hope we connect with the kids and get them to think that the dentist is a good place to be and it inspires them to brush their teeth."
Throughout the day, as enthusiastic kids filled the waiting area with laughter and smiles, D'Angelo and the rest of the staff at Doctors of Dental Medicine noted a palpable sense of excitement absent from the usual child's trip to the dentist's office. One child ran to give D'Angelo a hug before he left.
"It's a totally different atmosphere today and everyone is really enthusiastic," she said. "We all want to make a difference. If we can touch even one kid to make them not afraid of coming to the dentist then we did our job. We're big in the community and do whatever we can, like teaching dental health to some of the kindergarten classes at South Brunswick schools. We try to stay active in the community because this is our home."
For more information on Doctors of Dental Medicine call 732-329-3113