Bright Smiles for a Brighter Future

Kids Smiles provides pediatric dental care

Kids Smiles on Benning Road.

An old dentistry joke goes, “Dentists get to the root of the problem.” But to get to the problem, patients have to show up at the office. Since 2001 Kids Smiles has been serving children who show up to prevent and address oral health problems. Kids Smiles provides screenings, education, and treatment for children in underserved communities with or without insurance. Oral health is an important part of overall healthcare for children as well as adults. Lack of proper care can lead to severe consequences.

Prevent, Restore, Educate

Kids Smiles is a nonprofit pediatric dental practice located on Benning Road that provides care for more than 3,000 kids a year at low or no cost. From infancy to age 18, children can receive annual care for teeth and gums. The services include oral exams, X-rays, fluoride treatments, sealants, and fillings. Kids Smiles provides intensive juvenile oral health education through “First Smiles,” which offers at-home preventative-care tutorials to children three years and under and their parents.

Education does more than encourage good oral health care. The personalized tutorials also alleviate fear. Kesa Brevard, regional director for Kids Smiles (which also has clinics in Philadelphia), states that talking to children before they come for treatment relieves a lot of anxiety. “We have an educational coordinator that is a part of our dental team. And that person's job is to go into the waiting area while patients are waiting to be seen and provide education. One of the things that she talks about is anxiety and fears around going to the dentist office. She goes over the gloves and the mask and how you might feel when you're in the dental chair. She talks about the instruments like Mr. Thirsty [the suction tool]. We go through all of that with the kids before they come back to the treatment area. We even get on our knees or sit all the way on the floor to talk to them.”

This past February Kids Smiles collaborated with Howard University College of Dentistry to host the “Give a Kid Smile” event for students at Simon and Kimball elementary schools. The annual program provides free dental checkups for approximately 300 students. Sponsored by the DC Dental Society and the American Dental Association, it has been held on the first Friday in February since 2003.

The Bigger Picture

The 2007 death of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy from Prince George’s County who died from an abscess in his tooth, serves as a reminder of the dangers of neglecting dental care. The high cost of dental care as well as lack of health insurance coverage can be deterrents to care. Parents who are working hard to provide shelter, food, and clothing for their children may not put dental care at the top of their list, especially if there are no complaints. Others simply may not know the importance of good oral healthcare.

Brevard says lack of knowledge is one of the biggest obstacles at Kids Smiles. “One of the biggest things that Kids Smiles pushes is education. When you know better, you do better. Lack of care is usually related to lack of knowledge. We notice that when a child has a toothache or a dental emergency it affects their entire life. And in rare cases it can cause death.”

Having Medicaid is not an obstacle to getting good dental care. Finding a dentist that accepts Medicaid is the obstacle. Unfortunately many children throughout the country go without services because it's not covered in their health plan. Three out of four children covered by Medicaid in four states didn’t receive all required dental care over a recent two-year period, according to a federal report that recommends a government push to improve access to care. As with many issues dealing with the human body, prevention is less painful (and less expensive) than treatment. A report from the US Surgeon General says that approximately 37 percent of children ages two to nine from low-income backgrounds have one or more untreated decayed baby teeth. Lack of dental care can lead to more emergency dental procedures and costly treatments.

Kids Smiles accepts most insurance plans, and 91 percent of their patients have public insurance or none at all.

Parent's Guide to Great Dental Maintenance at Home

Brevard offers the following tips for keeping a child's oral health in good shape.

  • Kids should brush twice a day.
  • Avoid early childhood carry (children who walk around with the sippy cup, drinking all day). Sit the kids down and give them the fluids all at once instead of walking around with the cup. Have the drink at a certain time and chase it with water and then brush. Otherwise the sugar sits on their teeth and eats away at them.  
  • See the dentist regularly. A lot of parents feel that if nothing is hurting then their child is okay. Kids won't start complaining unless they are hurting. We focus on preventive care so that the child doesn't get to the point where things are hurting. That six-month checkup is super important. 
  • Look in the mouth. See what's going on in there. You can do that by helping them brush their teeth. Stay involved in their care. Kids will continue a behavior in later life if parents start early. 

Ultimately parents should make oral health a regular part of the child's care like annual physicals and eye exams. Keep the conversation about dental care positive and enlightening to avoid unwarranted anxiety.

Brevard says, come check out Kids Smiles on Benning Road. “We are a great facility. We are thrilled to be in the area we are in. Come in and check us out. If for no other reason, just come in and look around.” For more information about Kids Smiles visit www.kidssmiles.org. The DC branch is located at 4837 Benning Road SE.

Dentists at Kids Smiles provide basic dental care and more.

Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News.


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