Give Kids a Smile Day provides free dental clinic
NORTH CANAAN — Looking cool in her “shades” and relaxed in the reclining dental exam chair, 5-year-old Leah Ruane was thrilled to be told she had her first loose tooth. Later, she inspected a pouch full of goodies, pronouncing her favorite to be a purple plastic Tooth Fairy ring.Leah was one of about eight children seen during a morning of free exams and cleanings March 2 at Dr. Thomas Livingstone’s office, as part of Give Kids a Smile Day.The national event was first offered by the American Dental Association in 2001. Response was overwhelming, and five years later a national advisory board was established to expand the effort to more than just a day. Through community-based oral wellness programs and fundraising, its goal is to assure all U.S. children are cavity-free by 2020.Dental health insurance coverage is hard to get; and often even insured patients end up still paying a substantial part of the costs of their treatment. Seeing the dentist for the first time at the age of 5 is not that much of an issue. But the patient who came before Leah was an 18-year-old — on her first visit.“It’s hard. You say you’ll save up and take them, but it never happens,” one mother said.There are no judgments at the tiny Railroad Street dental office. They have been happily participating in the free day for at least five years now, and work hard to be sure community members know about the service and sign up.“A small percentage of parents will begin bringing their children in on a regular basis” after the free day, Livingstone said. “It all depends on their financial situation. Some will come in for the free exam once a year, and that’s better than nothing. “What we really need is for every dentist to participate. I don’t know why they don’t. We always fill up the appointments and extend them into another day if we have to.”Each child was seen by dental hygienist Maggie Horvay. She took X-rays and showed the patients a digital diagram of their teeth on a computer screen mounted in the exam room. A thorough exam, cleaning, flossing, fluoride application and brushing lesson followed. Suppliers donate toothbrushes and other goodies to give away to the children.Anyone with cavities was booked for a free follow-up visit.Leah had one. She said she wanted to get it filled right away because she had so much fun the first visit.Was she afraid of coming to the dentist?“No. It was fun and I knew it would be fun. And I’m not afraid of anything,” she said, adding after a brief pause, “The only thing is clowns, and some animals.”For information on free dental care opportunities, go to the Connecticut State Dental Association website at www.csda.com.