Outreach program supports healthy smiles

Published 10:24 pm Friday, March 16, 2018

Dr. Joe Wilson sat in the Colgate mobile dental van parked outside the school as children left their classrooms for quick checkups. The children waited in line and watched “Dr. Rabbit and the Legend of the Tooth Kingdom” playing on the television screen.

Wilson, a pediatric specialist at All Kids Dental in Suffolk, used a tongue depressor to check each child’s mouth for concerns. He said he keeps the kids calm during examinations by simply talking to them about their favorite things with a smile.

“You can’t smile enough,” Wilson said.

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Members of the Suffolk Chapter of The Links Inc. conducted the visit to Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School on Friday for the fourth year of its outreach program in partnership with Colgate.

Hundreds of students whose parents had signed them up for the program visited the Colgate van for screenings. They received “report cards” to take home to their parents that noted any current or potential issues with their oral health.

Wilson and Dr. Gloria Johnson-Spruiell looked at each child’s teeth as they sat in the examination chairs. They asked the children how many times they brushed each day and if they flossed regularly.

Ja’Zari Harrell, 7, was proud to say that he brushed twice a day and flossed plenty.

“I don’t want cavities,” Ja’Zari said.

Katherine Davis, program coordinator for the Suffolk Chapter of The Links, said the chapter has screened more than 600 students in the past three years between Booker T. Washington and Mack Benn Jr. elementary schools, plus Surry Elementary School in Surry County.

Johnson-Spruiell, a member of the Suffolk chapter, said the chapter won Best Programming in the Eastern region and received an $800 grant towards those programs.

“We wanted to bless every child at this entire school with that $800,” she said.

Members put together bags for the hundreds of students at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School, each with floss, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a healthy eating chart by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a timer to make sure they brush for at least two minutes.

There are also lots of cute, toothy stickers.

“You can’t forget the stickers,” Johnson-Spruiell said.

Each child was provided was a list of local doctors and practices that would accommodate the families in case they needed further care.

“No child will be turned away, whether they have Medicaid or some other insurance,” Johnson-Spruiell said.

Members conducted assemblies in the afternoon to explain good habits for healthy living. Chapter President Duanne Hoffler-Foster said one of their goals was to promote healthy, balanced meals.

“If they eat good, then they’ll feel good and pay better attention in class,” Hoffler-Foster said. “You can have your Fritos and your chips, but you have to balance it out.”

The visit was especially helpful for children that haven’t seen a dentist in a while.

“It gives opportunities for many of the families that don’t have access to dental care,” Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School Principal David LeFevre said. “We need to promote more programs like this.”