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'It was a hurt tooth'

Providence Gives Kids A Smile

February 07, 2012

By Craig Palmer, ADA News staff

—They arrived by bus and they walked to the Broad St. dental clinic to Give Kids A Smile this sunny Feb. 3, mom or dad along as required and Spanish speaking interpreters at the ready.

Family smiles: Mom Shanna Shorts leaves Providence GKAS dental visit with twins Meki (left) and Melik.

Providence, R.I.

At the end of the day that was just the beginning, 73 children ages 2-19 had a dental home, children who were waiting for dental care, children referred by pediatricians, children uninsured or on Medicaid in a largely Hispanic area flanked by Friendship, Peace and Plenty Streets and described by clinic officials as “short of Medicaid providers.” Most had never been to a dentist before and all became new Providence Community Health Center patients.

Melanie Rivera celebrated her second birthday sitting in mom's lap in a PCHC dental chair, Dr. Robert Varone, a community volunteer for GKAS day, trying to calm her unease at this conflicted confluence of events. In one of the other five operatories, Dr. Mary McCabe, clinic dental director, sang “happy birthday” to Yoshbel Florencio, who would turn seven Feb. 5, while examining his teeth and finding “some cavities.”

We turned to Meki Shorts, 7, who said he came to the clinic because his mouth was hurting. “It was a hurt tooth but I took it out yesterday at school. My teacher was reading a book and I was on the rug and I took it out because my tooth was going back all the way,” he said pointing to the vicinity of the oral excavation. As for the tooth, “I put it in my pocket and it got lost.” Meki's in the first grade and mom brought him and his identical twin Melik, “who's due for a checkup and cleaning,” to this GKAS event.

“We give them a note that excuses them from school,” said Cameron Grant, who bears the title dental supervisor, Providence Community Health Centers, Inc., but who might be more appropriately acknowledged as organizing the event. Mrs. Grant participated in the first-ever GKAS University, essentially a higher education in GKAS program success.

Smile prep: "Good job; what a trooper," Dr. Jayne Codjoe tells Meki Shorts, 7.

Dr. Jayne Codjoe, clinic staff, would clean Meki's teeth, “good job; what a trooper,” providing “fluoride treatment and we're good to do some sealants,” while Dr. Melissa Weintraub, a part-time associate dentist, tended to his brother.

However, the day of sunshine and smiles was not tear free. No sooner had Jasmine Tornez, age 3, heard the words “I'm going to brush your teeth today” than the tears flowed. “I saw a lot of younger, difficult patients three and under today,” Dr. Weintraub said during a break in patient flow. A “completely uncooperative” child with baby bottle tooth decay was referred to the nearby St. Joseph Hospital Pediatric Dental Center for stainless steel crowns and extractions.

What drives the volunteer and staff dentists who participate in Give Kids A Smile day? Why are you doing this? we asked Dr. Maria Saccoccio, a Providence GKAS pioneer who helped organize the first event in 2006 and comes back every year. “I wish I could do more,” she replied. Dr. Varone talked of “giving back to the community.” Dr. Codjoe said, “I like community dentistry. You're able to give very good quality care and this community health center keeps up with the technology.” Said Dr. Weintraub, “It's wonderful getting to treat kids who have no insurance and provide the support and care they need.”

The PCHC dental clinic stopped paper entries on Dec. 5, 2011, “a daunting task” as Dr. Weintraub described it. “We do not currently use paper for anything and by the end of the month we will have no paper records in the office,” Mrs. Grant added.

Smiles to come: Elbin Barrios is center of attention for Providence CHC's Dr. Codjoe (right), dental assistant Pamela Tineo.

Of the 73 children welcomed to dental care through this event, 54 will need follow-up care that will be provided at no cost to them, said Mrs. Grant. “In addition to providing (a clinic estimated $12,911 in) free care on Give Kids A Smile day, we also commit to providing any necessary follow-up care that these patients require at no cost to them,” she said. On the Monday after this Friday event, clinic staff placed calls to all 54 follow-up families to arrange for their child's continued care.

Each child left the GKAS event with a “Give Your Child a Superhero Smile” Crest + Oral-B goodie bag with toothbrush, floss, rinse, day chart with superhero stickers and a “join the healthy teeth club” invitation.

“PCHC is pleased to partner with the American Dental Association, Henry Schein and our local Rhode Island Dental Association to make this important day possible,” Mrs. Grant said. “Their generous support enables us to provide care to more patients who otherwise may not have access to dental care.”

Many of the GKAS day parents, when asked, described Dominican Republic roots and conversed in Spanish with clinic staff. The clinic's dental assistants must be bilingual for employment, said Dr. McCabe. But that is of no help with the occasional Mayan language dialect clinic staff may hear among the many languages for which Providence chc's offer interpreting services. “Our staff speaks Spanish, Portuguese, Laotian, Hmong, Portuguese, Creole, Russian and Khmer,” the PCHC website says. “Sign language interpretation is also available.”