By Dr. Kevin Nietzer, DMD, West Hawaii Community Health Center

“A child’s smile is one of life’s greatest blessings.” – Unknown Author

Dr. Kevin Nietzer and Evan Curry

As a dentist, I can’t agree more. One of my favorite things about my job is seeing a child smile up at me after a dental checkup. And what’s most rewarding is seeing the change from when a very young child is nervous coming to my office to when she’s a little older and comes back in, hops into the chair, and shares her joy with me with a big, toothy grin.

For the past two years, I have been fortunate enough to participate in Xerox’s Making Smiles Brighter Dental Outreach Initiative when it has come to Hawaii. The educational program, which launched in 2004 and travels around the country, has one main goal: promote fundamental improvements in the dental health status of at-risk and underserved children. Children from low-income families are less likely to see a dentist regularly and will suffer from twice as many cavities as their peers. Since its inception, the Making Smiles Brighter dental outreach initiative has screened more than 37,000 children in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Dental problems are also one of the most frequently cited reasons for school absences. Making Smiles Brighter usually takes place at an elementary school, and it starts with a presentation using a video and a giant set of teeth and a toothbrush to demonstrate proper brushing techniques. We then give the children on-site dental screenings to determine their dental needs. For some, these screenings are their first check-up ever. I’ve found that some of them have been in pain for a long time and require immediate attention. Our goal is to provide the children and their caregivers with recommendations for improving the dental health of these kids.

This year, the Making Smiles Brighter program brought me, another dentist and two dental hygienists from West Hawaii Community Health Center to Kahakai and Kealakehe elementary schools in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. We volunteered our time to educate and perform dental check-ups on approximately 1,600 Kindergarten through 5th grade students in two days.

Programs like Xerox’s Making Smiles Brighter initiative helps kids realize that the dentist office is not a scary place to go. It’s a great feeling for dentists when children finally see that we are here to help them – and that makes us smile.

Making Smiles Brighter went to Montana in April and educated and screened approximately 300 kids, and it will be making stops in California, Connecticut, New Mexico and Wyoming later this year. Learn more at www.facebook.com/makingsmilesbrighter.