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Dental Pros, Students, Work to ‘Give Kids a Smile’

Casey Ness of Chippewa Falls says it probably would have taken her months to get her 5-year-old son Jordan to see a dentist.

“He’s got a lot of tooth decay,” she said.

But little Jordan got some good care Friday from a professional dentist at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) during the annual Give Kids a Smile event. Sponsored nationwide by the American Dental Association and locally by the Chippewa Valley Dental Society and the Wisconsin Dental Association, the event offers free dental care to children ages 2 to 13.

Area dentists, hygienists, and assistants join CVTC dental program students and staff in volunteering their time to treat the children.

The barrier for Ness in getting Jordan to a dentist was financial, a common story among the families of the 110 children who had appointments for the day-long event.

“We’ve been trying to get him to a dentist, but insurance doesn’t cover everything,” Ness said.

Many dental offices ask for payment up front from families that do not have insurance coverage.

“We don’t have any dental insurance,” said Sarah Girard of Elk Mound, who brought her daughter, Alayna, 6. “I brought her here so she at least gets seen. She has a cavity, and they’re going to take care of it.”

“There is an access-to-care issue,” said Pam Entorf, CVTC Dental program instructor. “There is a shortage of dentists who are able to take patients who don’t have insurance or can’t pay.”

“We are helping bring dentistry to kids who may not be able to financially get access to it,” said Eau Claire dentist Dr. Thomas Leupke. “We get some pretty big thank-yous from parents who appreciate it.”

But the day is also about education – for young children and for the next generation of dental care professionals.

“Childhood dental decay is a communicable, infectious disease,” said Entorf, pointing out that if one child in a family has decay, the bacteria that cause it could spread to other children.

“It’s important to teach children as young as possible about how to take care of their teeth so they don’t have problems as they get older,” Entorf said.

And so, while they waited for the dentist to come by, hygienist Christine Zanocco of Hillside Dental in Eau Claire talked to Jordan Ness about getting rid of the “sugar bugs” in his teeth, and easing his fears about what the dentist was going to do.

Also learning during the day was Brittany Erickson, a Chippewa Falls native now a second-year CVTC Dental Hygienist program student.

“You get to apply everything you’re learning,” Erickson said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s really fun. Our teachers are really great and very supportive. It’s like a close family here.”

“A lot of the students who were graduates of the program here come back to volunteer. It’s like a class reunion,” Entorf said.

“It’s kind of fun when you’re telling the kids how to improve their oral health, and they’re taking to heart what you’re telling them,” Erickson said.

Entorf said volunteers for the day included 13 dentists, 6 licensed hygienists, 6 dental assistants, plus 21 student hygienists and 12 student dental assistants. In addition to the 110 who had made appointments, which is requested in advance, there were some walk-ins. The program typically serves about 130 children during the day.

While it becomes a hectic day for the volunteers, there are plenty of smiles to go around. The volunteers agree it’s a fun day.

“And it’s a good way to give back to the community,” said Leupke.