Children gain dental health and a smile at EGCC

STEUBENVILLE – Seven-year-old Madison Hickey wasn’t thrilled to lay back in the dental chair Wednesday morning at Eastern Gateway Community College.

She was the first child to take advantage of the free Give Kids A Smile program at the community college that will continue today and Friday at the school.

This was Hickey’s first dental exam and the prospect of an X-ray and a cleaning bothered her.

“It tastes icky,” the Pugliese West first-grader announced to Missy Gust, a dental hygienist volunteering at the three-day event.

“I’m a little nervous but I’m OK,” she added.

Her mother stood nearby offering quiet words of encouragement.

“I was told about the program by a dental assisting student. I work but I don’t have dental insurance so I was happy to take full advantage of this program,” explained Connie Rheinhardt of Steubenville.

Tammy Graham, dental assisting program director at EGCC, said approximately 60 children are expected to participate in the three-day Give Kids A Smile that concludes Friday with three volunteer dentists filling cavities.

“We had several cancellations because of the weather. It is a shame because this is a free program for eligible children, but we need the adults to make a commitment to bring their children here,” Graham noted.

Dr. Jim Fraser sat on a nearby stool waiting for dental hygienist Missy Gust to finish cleaning Hickey’s teeth.

“I have been volunteering here since the program started. I volunteer as a way to give back to the community. This is the first visit to a dentist for many of these kids, so I try to explain everything before I do anything. They are usually frightened so I try to calm them,” Fraser stated.

“Some of the kids we see here are in real need of dental care. They don’t qualify for Medicaid. The parents are working but don’t have dental insurance, so we provide a much needed service. I have been practicing in Wintersville for the past 34 years so this is my chance to volunteer when I can,” cited Fraser.

Elizabeth Bradcovich was walking through the halls of the college passing out stickers and selling child and adult toothbrushes.

The dental assisting student at EGCC was playing the role of the Tooth Fairy helping children to learn proper brushing techniques and offering a smile to everyone who stopped to talk to her.

“The teachers asked who wanted to be the Tooth Fairy this year and no one really wanted to. So I volunteered. I am selling the tooth brushes and we are holding a fundraiser for our dental program scholarship fund,” she said.

“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 Dr. Thomas Matanzo, who helped spearhead the local Give Kids A Smile event.

The college dental assisting and expanded functions dental assisting students offered their services as part of the statewide initiative this week. “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. 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,” said Donna Robinson, dental assisting program consultant.