Dentists donate time, talents to help low-income kids

02/24/07 -- Marlon Vaughn -- THE FLINT JOURNAL FIRST EDITION Local dentists didn't get the turnout they hoped for at the recent Give Kids a Smile event - a day of free dental services for children from low-income families around the county.

But they aren't about to give up. They'll huddle, redesign the program and try it again next
year. They're determined to educate children and families about the importance of good dental

"We're not going to be defeated," said Vicki Quist, a Flushing dentist who helped organize
Give Kids a Smile with Amy Maul, who works in her dental office.

"We want to create awareness of the importance of dental health and dental services."

In addition to Quist, more than 20 other local dentists took part in Give Kids a Smile:
Steven Sulfaro, James Cantwil; Martin and Jay Werschky; Kim McPheeters; Trina Floyd;
Paul Racine; Ken Ackley; Larry Black,;Niman Shukairy; Mark Eastman; Rod Knoerr; Tim
Vanitvelt; Lori Thomas; Tom Belford; Matthew Fulton; Mark Knight; Lisa Lewis; Jeff Bundy;
Sanjay Agrawal; Greg Peacock; Jack Medema; Julianna Hukill; and Fatima Khan.

The dentists set aside the day to offer free cleanings, exams and other dental services.

Low-income families with children were identified for services, and about 300
appointments were booked.

But many of the dentists reported only about a 25 percent turnout, and even less than that
for some.

Cantwil, whose office is in Mt. Morris Township, said three of the 17 families actually made
their appointments.

"We had plenty of kids interested in the program," he said.

"The children that aren't being seen for regular preventive dental care aren't in control of
whether their parents take them."

The dentists identified a number of potential causes for the low participation rate, including
a lack of transportation and work conflicts for the parents.

"Sometimes, the patients had to travel a pretty long distance," Quist said. "There were
some pretty tough restrictions on a lot of them."

But the dentists already are drilling for ways to boost attendance at next year's event.

Among the plans under consideration are having a two-day screening event at a central
location, then handing out vouchers for additional services at their individual offices.

"Hopefully we can create more awareness for next year's event," Quist said.

And dental health is a pivotal issue for low-income children, the dentists agreed. According
to the National Survey of America's Families, the percentage of low-income children with
unmet dental care needs is double that of higher-income children.

About 60 percent of low-income children don't receive the recommended minimum level
of dental care, and 30 percent receive no dental care at all in a given year, the survey

"Low-income families perhaps have more immediate concerns," Quist said.

"If a child isn't complaining about a toothache, then they might move on to other concerns."

Cantwil said there's also a perception that dental checkups are prohibitively expensive,
when they really aren't.

"There's a mindset that if insurance doesn't cover it, then it's not going to get done," he

Cantwil said that during his Give Kids a Smile appointments, he talked to the parents about
the importance of dental health and how to maintain it while they hygienists were working
on their children's choppers.

Among the problems associated with poor dental health are susceptibility to infections,
poor academic performance and even heart disease later in life.

"It's very important in terms of a child's overall health," he said.

And that's why the dentists are determined to make the Give Kids a Smile event in this
area a success.

"There's not enough government support for dental health for children from low-income
families," Quist said.

"We want to bring more attention to that."

Added Cantwil: "A lot of people don't think (dental care) is a big priority, when it is. We want
to get that message to them - we're just trying to think of a different way to do it."

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