More than 150 District elementary school children received free dental care on the first day of Black History Month in a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the importance of oral hygiene.
The District of Columbia Dental Society, the local arm of the American Dental Association (ADA), the professional group of dentists, who hosted the annual Give Kids a Smile Day with Howard University College of Dentistry in Northwest, provided an array of services.
Ten-year-old Elvis Ohia, a fifth grader who attends Bruce-Monroe Elementary at Parkview in Northwest, had his teeth cleaned.
"It was fun," said Elvis, who's visited a dentist before. "They gave us toothbrushes and made sure our teeth were clean and showed us how to clean our teeth."
Children ranging in ages from 4 and up visited dentists who volunteered a half-a-day, and Howard dental students to receive multiple types of treatments. These included dental sealants to prevent decay, fluoride and cleanings. If needed, the children could receive follow-up care for fillings, extractions and root canals.
"Lots of kids need treatment and less than 25 percent of the parents will send them back," said Dr. Sally Cram, president of the D.C. Dental Society Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Dental Society, which helped raise funds for the day, which was approximately $10,000 this year. "Part of our goal is to educate parents as an important part of prevention ... we want to totally eradicate tooth decay in five year olds by 2020."
Started by the ADA in 2003, the District's partnership has always been with Howard, which had space with "lots of equipment and provided a great opportunity for the dentists at the Dental Society to mentor dental students and the children," Cram added.
"This partnership will improve the oral health disparities in the District," said Howard Associate Professor Dr. Donna Grant-Mills, and chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene. "We've come a long way over the past decade where national data states dental decay is the most chronic preventable childhood disease. It's five times more common than asthma."
Treating these low-income children could prevent deaths like Deamonte Driver, the 12-year-old boy from Prince George's County who died Feb. 25, 2007, after bacteria from an untreated tooth abscess reached his brain. His mother found it difficult to find a dentist who accepted Medicaid.
"We realized there's a silent epidemic of oral disease in children and this day can help turn a page on an unmet need," said Grant-Mills who added it was unfortunate that a child was lost but it was a "wake up call for the need for more intervention."
Howard alum, orthodontist Andrew Orchin, who has a practice in Northwest, supervised dental students, Nkechi Nwagwu and Tuan M. Pham as they worked on 6-year-old Mariama Conteh.
"She was very cooperative," said Nwagwu, 27, a third-year student who used a sealant because the little girl had bruising on her teeth.
"I had a good experience here, and I wanted to come back to help," said Orchin, 45, a native Washingtonian who graduated from Howard in 2002.
According to the Dental Society, since the Give Kids a Smile Day began, the District has treated about 1,800 children and provided $495,000 in free dental treatments because of the annual efforts of 30 to 40 volunteer dentists and their staff.
"Oral health affects overall health. A child with dental pain can't function properly, misses school, and can't concentrate. A healthy mouth influences general health," said Grant-Mills, adding that during the day, the focus was on "restoration, prevention and education."