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Dentists bring smiles to students

Dr. Charmaine Walker was at home on the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Dental Van Friday, helping bring smiles to students at Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

But it was a triple-good feeling for Walker to be in Suffolk.

Not only was she helping children with their dental hygiene, she was returning home to where she grew up and getting the opportunity to work alongside her childhood dentist, Dr. Gloria Johnson-Spruiell.

Walker, who practices dentistry in Rocky Mount, N.C., grew up in Suffolk and went to school at Nansemond Parkway Elementary School, John Yeates and John F. Kennedy middle schools, and Nansemond River High School, where she graduated in 2006.

Not only that, but Walker has a direct connection to Booker T. Washington — her grandmother taught there.

Walker and Johnson-Spruiell, a dentist in Newport News, provided brief dental screenings to about 175 students who boarded the 32-foot mobile van parked behind the school. Johnson-Spruiell inspired Walker to make dentistry a career. The two have even talked of opening a dentistry practice together.

“It’s always fun coming home,” Walker said, “because I get to work with my mentor, and work with the kids. It’s just an awesome experience.”

Walker and Johnson-Spruiell were full of smiles and shared an easygoing rapport with the children and each other as they conducted the two-minute screenings while providing tips on brushing, flossing and eating healthy.

Both joked with the more relaxed children, and eased the minds of the more nervous ones.

“We try to make it exciting,” Johnson-Spruiell said. “We try to make it fun, and it’s not going to be taking a tooth out.”

The children were only being looked over to determine whether they might have issues that would need further examining, and they barely had time to blink before being handed a “report card” of their visit. Those that require additional care were given the names and contact information of Suffolk-area health care facilities and general dentists that could provide further care.

“The children are our mission, so when we see them, we educate them,” said dental professional Janyce Jefferson, part of Colgate’s Mid-Atlantic team. “They go back, in turn, and educate their friends and their family members about the importance of brushing twice a day, the importance of flossing at nighttime, the importance of eating two snacks a day (and) going to the dentist and the hygienist twice a year.”

Every child who was screened received a packet containing toothpaste, a toothbrush and brushing instructions.

“It’s just triple-fold the feeling that I feel for doing it, but also, the feeling that I get from being able to help the community,” Johnson-Spruiell said, “(and) help a child know that coming to visit a dentist is not the end of the world. It can be a friendly experience to them.”

This is the third year that the Colgate Dental Van has come to Booker T. Washington through a sponsorship with the Suffolk Chapter of The Links Inc., which received grant money to bring the van to the school.

“We’re here serving,” said Duanne Hoffler-Foster, president of the Suffolk Chapter of The Links. “That’s the thing we pride ourselves on, doing whatever is needed.”