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Clinic gives free dental care to uninsured kids, peace of mind to parents in the Tri-State area

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Your baby's first smile is a momentous event; whether it's the result of a gas bubble or true happiness, that first gummy grin is always a major milestone committed to parents' memories.

That smile will later serve as your child's calling card -- his or her first impression when meeting potential playmates, classmates, teachers, and eventually, bosses.

That's one of the reasons why it's important to keep it healthy and beautiful, according to Dr. Nika Hettlinger, president of the Huntington Dental Society. That's why she and six other dentists will offer free dental care to uninsured children during Give Kids A Smile Day from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22, at the office of Hettlinger and Dr. James Butler at 324 29th St., Huntington. Appointments are necessary and may be made by calling 304-523-2790.

During that time, the dentists will provide full dental treatment, which includes an exam, cleaning, professional fluoride and restorative dental treatment as needed (such as filling cavities, etc.).

"A good smile is definitely the first thing that you see," Hettlinger said. "And sometimes, your opinion of a person, their overall cleanliness and so on, depends on how their smile looks. For our young kids, the last thing we want is for them to be made fun of because poor dental care."

More importantly, dental health can affect a child's overall health even into adulthood. A strong link has been established between periodontal disease and heart disease, Hettlinger said, and prevention of both starts early.

"Prevention starts at an early age -- prevention for parents and kids," she said.

Ideally, a child should see a dentist by age 1, Hettlinger said, for an early screening and for parents to learn about the importance of decreasing sugar in their children's diets, establishing dental hygiene routines, proper brushing and flossing techniques, and set up a pattern of routine professional exams and cleanings. At the very least, Hettlinger said, children should visit a dentist by age 3.

"If we can start the habits when they are younger, we can decrease chances when they are older for poor oral health leading to heart disease," Hettlinger said. "Even though we are going to lose our baby teeth, we want to start the prevention process earlier to allow their permanent teeth to be cavity free."

But Hettlinger and her colleagues understand that many hard-working parents don't have access to dental insurance and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. That's why they joined the American Dental Association's Give Kids a Smile Program. Kids ages 2 to 18 who do not have dental insurance, CHIPS or Medicaid coverage can have a complete exam, x-rays, cleaning and other treatments that are necessary, all free of charge. The time, work and tools needed are donated by the participating dentists and the Huntington Dental Society, and children will also receive kits to take home courtesy of Colgate and Henry Schein Dental.

Last year, the dentists provided about $13,000 worth of treatment to 32 patients. But they have the capacity to serve 50 patients, and Hettlinger said she and her colleagues are hoping for a bigger turnout this year.

"We're just trying to improve the access to care for our children. Our hope is that our hard-working parents who either don't have access to dental insurance or ability to pay for the treatment can get the care they need for their children. We're hoping to get to those who would fall through the cracks because of those situations.

"We really enjoy doing this event," Hettlinger said. "It is such a blessing for us to be able to provide the care."

Give Kids a Smile

WHAT: A free dental clinic for children from ages 2 to 18

WHO: Dentists of the Huntington Dental Society will screen children without dental insurance, CHIPS or Medicaid. As time permits, the children may receive cleaning, x-rays and restorative treatments.

WHEN: Appointment only, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. w22

WHERE: At the office of Dr. James Butler and Dr. Nika Hettlinger, 324 29th St., Huntington

SIGN UP: Make an appointment by calling 304-523-2790.