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Quality Face Time at Dental Home Day

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We get to see a lot of faces in our work as pediatric dentists, but how often can we pull back to see the bigger picture?

Working as a volunteer at the first Healthy Smiles, Healthy Children Dental Home Day in Orlando last May, I was privileged to see more than 40 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry members and affiliates help provide dental care for 91 homeless children. We spent the day at the Orange Blossom Family Health Center on Orlando's northwest side.

My job in reception/intake allowed me to see children and their families from a whole new perspective. Instead of working in the exam room, I spent a full day mingling with patients, siblings and parents in the waiting area. Many of these kids hadn't been to a dentist in years.

Like many service projects, Dental Home Day was controlled chaos at times. Back-ups in X-ray, scrambles for needed supplies, searches for an errant child, and coping with classic Florida heat and humidity all made for, at times, a challenging day.

It is the faces, however, that stay with me.

Some peered over the top of the registration table, others were buried in mom's shoulder, and several looked excited to be there. There were the faces of parents - some sheepish because their child had never been to the dentist, while others were relieved their child was no longer in pain.

Relieving a child's pain and discomfort was a recurring theme among Dental Home Day parents. Tony Lewis and Heather Greene, whose son Caleb had a supernumerary tooth that was extracted during his Dental Home Day visit, found the clinic by chance.

"We were driving by and we saw the sign saying they were doing dental work for children. My son had an extra tooth growing in front and I've been trying for three months to find someone to take care of it," said Caleb's mom.

Caleb and the other 90 Dental Home Day patients now have a Dental Home at Orange Blossom for the next 12 months thanks to the $45,000 in total grants from HSHC. I'm grateful to Sunstar Americas, Inc., who is sponsoring Dental Home Day through May 2016, and I'm grateful to all of the HSHC donors and volunteers who make all of our access to care work possible.

But, most of all, I'm grateful to the parents who take the time to bring their children to the dentist - whether as part of Dental Home Day or any other day of the week.

The last faces of the day were the faces of the volunteers who registered contentment, exhilaration, as well as exhaustion, as we rode the coach bus back to the AAPD Annual Session site. Everyone was reflecting on the day, telling stories of this child or that child. It was a wonderful drive back to the hotel.

Whether they were happy with our care or just happy that it was over, we know we made a difference in the lives of these children and their families. I can't wait to see the children's faces in Boston in 2014.

Author's Bio
Dr. Beverly Largent is president of Healthy Smiles, Healthy Children: The Foundation of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. She's a pediatric dentist practicing in Paducah, Kentucky. For more information about Dental Home Day, e-mail inquiries can be sent to dentalhomeday@aapd.org.