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"Give Kids a Smile" Gifts Dental Care for Kids in Need

January 18, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS - Healthy teeth provide more than a sparkling smile, according to child development experts; they also affect speech development, social skills, and even concentration in school, with an impact on a child's overall health. But access to regular dental care is not an option for many low-income families. So, thousands of dentists across Minnesota will offer two days of free exams in February, through the Minnesota Dental Association's "Give Kids a Smile" program.

Dr. Mike Hagley from Grand Rapids says his office has been participating since the program started nine years ago.

"We know that there's children out there all over the state that fall through the cracks, that aren't getting care that they need, and they need our help."

The free exam dates are February 4 and 5. Appointments are on a "first-come" basis, and can be scheduled by calling the United Way at 211, or toll-free, 1-800-543-7709. Information about the program is online at www.mndental.org.

Tina Hamilton, health and nutrition coordinator for Western Community Action Head Start in Marshall, says access to local dental care is difficult in this rural part of the state. Appointments with the few dentists in the region fill up quickly, and few are taking on new medical assistance patients, she adds.

"In some cases, we have been sending kids over 150 miles roundtrip to see a dentist. And so, when the dentists do participate in 'Give Kids a Smile,' it gives us a chance to get kids that would normally never get in to a dentist a chance to be seen, and often to have the work done that they need done, as well."

She says one Lyon County dentist donated services worth more than $4,000 last year. Those who volunteer for the program make a profound impact on the kids they serve, says Hamilton. She wishes the dentists and their staff members could see the transformation in the classroom.

"The difference in those children once they get the dental work done is incalculable. They go from hurting and not being able to concentrate in class, and not being able to eat, to being happy, healthy, productive kids who concentrate in school and smile – and it's amazing."

According to the National Institutes for Health, nearly one in four children ages 2-11, and more than half of children living in poverty, have untreated tooth decay. Last year's "Give Kids a Smile" campaign served more than 6,000 Minnesota children, with dental services valued at $1.7 million.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN