All kids want to go back to school with new clothes, shiny notebooks and a cool backpack. A free program is going to make sure some are also sporting a sparkling smile.
On Aug. 21, a group of dentists will offer free dental checkups and cleanings to bay-area children heading back to school. The program is called Smile For School and was organized by Seminole dentist Sandra Lilo. Inspiration came from the Seminole Chamber of Commerce, which has a sign out front asking for donations of school supplies to help families in need.
"I was thinking about the financial struggles that people are having, and they are not able to do what they would like to do to prepare their kids to go back to school. And I said to myself, what can I do to make a difference?"
Through the West Coast District Dental Association, which covers 16 bay area counties, Lilo invited her colleagues to participate in a free day of care for children who wouldn't otherwise see a dentist.
As of this writing, 10 Pinellas County dentists have signed up. Any dentists interested in joining the program can still do so online at www.smileforschool.com. Several dentists are even coming out of retirement for the day to work at Lilo's office, performing teeth cleanings and serving as dental assistants.
She says, "I had to check with the dental association to make sure it was okay, and they said it was, so I'm excited to have them join in."
The program is open to all bay area students up to age 18, particularly kids from families who don't have dental insurance and who don't qualify for government dental programs for low-income children. Families must bring proof of school registration.
Each child will receive an examination, teeth cleaning, routine X-rays and information on how to prevent decay and keep their teeth. "My hope is that we reach at least 200 kids that day," says Lilo, who has participated in medical missions to Peru for years.
If problems are detected, parents will be given documentation of the findings, including X-rays, and can schedule treatment with their own dentist or with the volunteer dentist, but standard fees will apply.
Aside from the obvious benefits of cleaning and detecting decay, Lilo sees the day as an opportunity to teach kids about oral hygiene, nutrition and the damaging effect that drinking too much soda can have on their teeth.
"They have a chance at never getting cavities because they saw one of us," she says. "This is a neat way to give service and education that could change their lives."
Irene Maher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.