Six-year-old Tristen Denis-Silva waited patiently outside while some of his Kahakai Elementary School classmates received free dental screenings Tuesday.
Knowing his turn was up next did not make him nervous. Instead, Denis-Silva was “happy.”
“It’s good for kids to see (dentists) and get their teeth checked,” he said. “If you take care of your teeth, there will be no cavities. If you have cavities, all your teeth will fall out, and that’s scary.”
It’s never too early to start good dental hygiene, a fact that prompted Xerox to launch its dental outreach initiative, Making Smiles Brighter, in 2004. Over the past nine years, the program has provided more than 35,000 children from low-income families and those with inadequate dental care access complimentary screenings and prevention-based educational seminars, said John Provenza, Xerox government health care solutions executive account manager.
For some children, the Making Smiles Brighter screening is their first dental checkup or a wake-up call to families to establish regular dental visits. For others, the program is a chance to help them feel more comfortable at the dentist’s office and to learn more about oral health and proper dental habits. There have also been situations where the screening has led to immediate treatment of dental problems that were causing pain, Provenza said.
Dental problems are one of the two most frequently cited reasons for children’s absences from school, and more than 51 million school hours are lost annually from dental-related illnesses nationwide. Left untreated, those problems can become so severe that they affect a child’s ability to fully focus and participate in the classroom, as well as lead to problems with eating, speaking and self-confidence, Provenza said.
Tuesday was the first time Xerox had brought Making Smiles Brighter to Hawaii Island, something that was made possible, in part, because of local dental professionals’ willingness to partner in the effort, Provenza said.
Dr. Kevin Nietzer of the West Hawaii Community Health Center had participated in the program last year on Oahu. After witnessing the good it generated, Nietzer said he encouraged Xerox to come to the Big Island. Besides getting children excited about brushing their teeth, he hoped the screenings resulted in regular dental examinations. He also wants those needing a family dentist to know about West Hawaii Community Health Center’s Keiki Dental.
The screenings took mere minutes Tuesday. They consisted of Nietzer and Dr. Gerald Lee, a visiting dentist working with the West Hawaii Community Health Center, looking at children’s teeth using a flashlight. In between high fives, friendly chitchat and the flashing of pearly whites, they determined whether the child’s teeth were cleaned well or if more thorough brushing and regular flossing was needed. When there was fear or tears, extra time was taken to make the child feel comfortable and explain the evaluation process, which was usually followed by a thank-you hug from the grateful boy or girl.
Since X-rays were not taken, this screening doesn’t replace a regular examination. Students in need of dental care were told to see a dentist within a month and those with severe dental problems were advised to go as soon as possible. Immediate emergency dental treatment was recommended for those with a toothache or infection. For all others, a dental checkup in six months was suggested. Other dental advice included suggestions of dental sealants to help prevent cavities and an orthodontic consultation for better dental health.
Prior to the screening, Kahakai Elementary students attended an assembly, which featured “Geena’s Tremendous Tooth Adventure,” a video that details the adventures of Geena, a giraffe with her first big tooth, as she learns how to properly care for her teeth. She meets The Sparkles, rock ’n’ roll globs of toothpaste. She also has to overcome candy temptation and other challenges brought on by the evil King Cavity. Afterwards, students explained what they learned to Xerox government health care solutions outreach program manager Marcella Pruitt: Brush your teeth at least two times a day, once in the morning and once at night, for at least 2 minutes. Eat fruit and vegetables instead of candy or chips. Also visit the dentist.
During the assembly, Nietzer and Lee also demonstrated the proper way to brush teeth while using a giant set of teeth and toothbrush.
“I liked meeting the dentists,” said 7-year-old Gisselie Perez. “They could see if we have cavities or not. If you don’t brush your teeth or take care of them, your teeth won’t be shiny and healthy.”
Today, Making Smiles Brighter will be at Kealakehe Elementary School. With the help of local dentists, approximately 500 children will be screened and roughly 1,000 children will learn about dental health this week in Kailua-Kona. Xerox hopes to return to Hawaii again next year and visit three to four other schools, possibly in East Hawaii or on Kauai, but will need local dentists as partners, Provenza said.
For more information, call Provenza at 952-5592 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit xerox.com/govhealthcare.