CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Roughly 250 children from a handful of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools received free dental care Friday at the 2018 Pediatric Dental Clinic.
The annual clinic was hosted by Project L.I.F.T. and TeamSmile, who turned the gymnasium at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in West Charlotte into a dentist’s office.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids who either don’t see a dentist or don’t have the financial means or even the transportation to see a dentist,” said dentist Jim Herron. He owns and runs James A Herron D.D.S. P.A. in Charlotte and volunteered as lead dentist at Friday’s clinic.
A majority of students at the clinic were either uninsured or underinsured, and for many of them, this was the first time they’ve ever seen a dentist.
“When you’re dealing with children that are truly at-risk and truly and at-need, they’re worried about food, clothing, and shelter as they should be and so dental care doesn’t often rise to the top of those priorities,” said John McCarthy, Executive Director, TeamSmile.
“Unfortunately, most kids have quite a few cavities, and some we’ll see that every tooth they have has a cavity in it,” he said.
Experts said those cavities can have far-reaching consequences. Research has shown oral health has a direct correlation to student achievement, saying issues such as untreated decay can cause pain and infection that may lead to difficulty eating, speaking, socializing and sleeping, as well as poor overall health.
“We truly try to identify the kids who are really struggling either missing school because of dental pain, struggling in school, not eating lunch because of dental pain.”
Herron said students were pre-screened at school. On Friday, they were brought by bus to the clinic where they received the dental care free of charge. Services included cleanings, sealants, fillings, extractions, and root canals among others.
In addition to giving the children a reason to smile, organizers said they also strive to take the fear out of seeing a dentist. Carolina Panthers including offensive linemen Taylor Moton and long snapper J.J. Jansen signed autographs and encouraged the kids as they underwent procedures.
“It’s an important part of hygiene, so I’m really happy I can help,” said Moton.
In addition to receiving free dental care, the children were also taught the importance of brushing, flossing and overall dental health. As a parting gift, all of the kids received free toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss -- items organizers say many of the kids never own.
Since starting regular dental clinics in 2013, Project L.I.F.T. has served more than 1,335 students.