AP NEWS

Annual free dental event helps kids learn about dental prevention, get critical dental work complete

February 24, 2019

Sheila Hubert knew Give Kids a Smile was needed when the phone started ringing. And then the calls didn’t stop coming.

“That was a big eye-opener for me that our community does need this service,” said Sheila Hubert, the dental program coordinator at Community Health Connect.

The annual event from Community Health Connect was held Saturday at the Utah College of Dental Hygiene in Orem. The event brings together about 200 volunteers to help about 150 students receive free dental services, which can range from $300 to $900 per child.

The group tries to keep the event fun for the children, many of who are having their first experience with a dentist. The event incorporated an arctic tundra theme this year, and each child was escorted by both a buddy and a teddy bear throughout the process.

“I thought a lot of them would be sad being at the dentist, but they’re so happy and walking around with smiles on their face,” said Tanner Hunt, a Brigham Young University student who was on the organizing board for the event. “It is a great experience to watch them do that.”

As part of the organizing board, Hunt was in charge of recruiting dentists, volunteers and patients for the event. He worked with university clubs to attract students, but said the hardest part was coordinating to find the children who could be helped. Hunt said some parents were skeptical the event was really free.

He said people often won’t go to a dentist when they’re struggling financially because their teeth don’t hurt.

“It’s something they haven’t had in a long time because they don’t have the resources for it,” Hunt said.

Hunt hopes to give back to the community with a similar event when he becomes a dentist.

If the work can’t be done on-site, families are given a voucher and are contacted in a week to let them know which dentist to visit.

Saturday’s event also included education about prevention, including activities that taught children how to properly floss and brush their teeth.

Hubert said that while baby teeth do fall out, keeping them healthy is still important.

“They help set up the structure of your mouth for the rest of your life,” she said.

The event stays busy, with volunteers leading children to different dental services, or stopping them for a photo before they leave.

Throughout it all, the children are intrigued by the technology as opposed to being afraid of it.

“I think the kids we are seeing nowadays and kids in general are a little more interested in being engaged in dental work,” said Devin McClure, the director of operations for the Utah College of Dental Hygiene. “You find these kids that are excited to come to the dentist.”

He said hosting the event gets the students familiar with the idea of donating their services.

“It is important for us as an educational institution to set the example for our students and get them into the mindset of, hey, you have a skill here that some people never get to take advantage of in their life,” McClure said.