STEUBENVILLE - The 12th-annual Give Kids A Smile program is slated for Feb. 19-20 on the Jefferson County Campus of Eastern Gateway Community College.
Running daily from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the program will serve dozens of children from local low-income families with free dental services ranging from cleanings to fillings as part of national Give Kids A Smile event.
Eastern Gateway's event will be among nearly 1,500 events across the nation, serving more than 450,000 children. For 12 years running, the college's dental assisting program along with local dentists and dental hygienists have volunteered to provide these free services to the large portion of underserved children.
Appointments remain open for the free service by advanced registration. Call (740) 264-5591, extension 190, by Feb. 12.
Thomas Matanzo, a dentist in Wintersville; Tammy Graham, dental assisting program director; and Donna Robinson, dental assisting program consultant, spearhead the local event. Other area professionals as well as the college dental assisting and expanded functions dental assisting students offer their services as part of the statewide initiative.
Public health programs such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program are supposed to help underserved children, but utilization rates are low, according to officials.
"Many children enrolled in Medicaid receive no dental service in throughout the year," Robinson said. "Dentists can't do this alone. With Give Kids A Smile, we can help some children get the dental care they need, but an annual event will never be enough. Our event is not a cure-all, it's a wake up call."
"Children's oral health is everyone's business - not just dentists. We need to participate as a community and as a nation. We need to find the political will to solve this problem," she said. "It won't happen overnight. But if enough people start working on it, it will happen."
Last year, more than 40,000 dental team members nationwide participated in Give Kids A Smile, a program first held nationally in 2003 by the American Dental Association to provide care and raise awareness of the importance of access to dental care for poor children.
"It's heartbreaking to see a child's smile destroyed by severe tooth decay," said Matanzo. "Imagine not being able to eat, sleep and pay attention in school because you have a mouthful of toothaches, Some children have reached the point where the only alternative is a mouth full of crowns or pulling the teeth that can't be saved. It's tragic. Our state needs to do more to help children get the dental care they need."
Nearly one in four children, ages 2-11, has untreated cavities in their baby teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While poor diet and oral hygiene certainly play a role, cavities are actually caused by a disease called caries, which is five times more common than asthma.
The National Institutes of Health report that 80 percent of tooth decay is found in just 25 percent of children, primarily from low-income families.
Give Kids A Smile is made possible with the support of the corporate sponsors, who provided more than $2.8 million in products and services for the 2013 event.