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GKAS events create one less worry for Hurricane Sandy victims in New Jersey


Parting gifts: A patient at Sun Dental in Toms River, N.J., holds up her goody bag of oral health care products Feb. 1.

Commendation: Dental team members, including Dr. Elisa Velazquez, third from left, at Ocean Pediatric Dental Associates share a grin with Thomas Kelaher, mayor of Toms River, N.J., Feb. 1.
Toms River, N.J
.—Children and parents on the Jersey Shore had more on their minds at Give Kids A Smile events this year.

GKAS is always a welcome opportunity for children to receive the oral health care they either can't easily access or afford. And this year especially, going to the dentist was one less thing Jersey Shore residents had to worry about.

Thousands of New Jersey residents are still picking up the pieces and trying to correct the damage they suffered from Hurricane Sandy Oct. 29. Despite the damage to their own practices and homes, dentists around the Jersey Shore held GKAS events Feb. 1. Many of their patients were victims from the storm. 

"We had people crying and hugging us and thanking us for helping them, especially because everything else is falling apart in their lives," said Dr. Elisa Velazquez, a dentist at Ocean Pediatric Dental Associates, who has held a GKAS event in her office every year since 2008 but especially saw the need this year. "If you live in Ocean County, you were affected. Everyone who came out for Give Kids A Smile was either directly or indirectly affected."

Access to dental care is of particular concern this year, with many Hurricane Sandy victims losing their cars in the storm, Dr. Velazquez said.

"If your car is destroyed, you're going to have difficulty accessing anything, let alone dental care," Dr. Velazquez said. "In this area, there's not a great public transportation system."

Dr. Velazquez said there was a higher turnout for GKAS this year—around 80 children—mostly because of the dedication of the New Jersey Dental Association.

"Our state is getting so well organized in how they organize Give Kids A Smile," Dr. Velazquez said.

This year, 137 dental offices held GKAS events, said Maureen Barlow, director of meetings and events for the NJDA. The NJDA increased its marketing efforts for GKAS by recording a three-minute video, sponsored by Delta Dental, that teaches dentists how to get involved with the program.


Finishing smile: Dr. Mark Vitale smiles with a patient at Edison Dental Arts in Edison, N.J., Feb. 1.
The video will premiere at the state dental association's annual session in June. The day before the annual meeting begins, the NJDA will hold a walk on the boardwalk in Long Branch, N.J., to raise money for GKAS.

It's money that would help patients who attend GKAS events at one of the Eastern Dental locations that offer free care as part of the charitable program. This year, 21 of the company's offices held GKAS events, targeting storm-affected areas. It was the first year Eastern Dental offices participated.

"The owner thought it was important to give back to the community and we heard about it through the New Jersey Dental Association," said Jeff Motto, Eastern Dental marketing manager.

Eastern Dental dentists performed $150,000 worth of dentistry on more than 600 children, Mr. Motto said. A fair amount of the children were still displaced from Hurricane Sandy and hadn't been able to return to their residences, he said. Many staff members were also impacted.

"It certainly hit home for us," said Steven Swissman, Eastern Dental chief operating officer. "It was so much more rewarding than we ever could have anticipated. Some of these patients had never been to the dentist before."