STEUBENVILLE - The annual Give Kids A Smile program kicks off Feb. 1 on the Jefferson County campus of Eastern Gateway Community College.
Running daily from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. through Feb. 3, 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 1,600 events across the nation, serving more than 40,000 children.
For 10 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. Advanced registration should be made by Jan. 27 by calling (740) 264-5591, extension 190.
Thomas Matanzo, a dentist in Wintersville; Tammy Graham, dental assisting program director; and Donna Robinson, dental assisting program consultant, are spearheading the local event. Other area professionals as well as the college dental assisting students offer their services as part of this statewide initiative.
Last year, more than 45,000 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. 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," said Matanzo.
Nearly one in four children, ages 2-11, have 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.
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.
"Many children enrolled in Medicaid receive no dental service in throughout the year. Dentists can't do this alone. With Give Kids A Smile, we can help some children get the dental care they need, but the annual event will never be enough. Our event is not a cure all, it's a wake-up call," Robinson said.
"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. It won't happen overnight. But if enough people start working on it, it will happen," added Robinson.
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 2011 event.
The 2012 sponsors are Colgate-Palmolive, Henry Schein Dental and DEXIS Digital X-ray.