More than 160 children got their teeth cleaned for free in Dover this past weekend at the Delaware State Dental Society’s annual “Give Kids A Smile" event.
The waiting room at Dr. Douglas Ditty’s office is packed. Some of the children here had their teeth cleaned weeks or months ago, and are in for a quick check-up.
Others haven't seen a dentist in years.
Children are getting everything from X-rays to fillings. Dr. Ditty says many families are just seizing an opportunity for free care and education on personal hygiene.
"There are so many things that can result from poor dentition and dental infections," Ditty said. "If we can educate patients on how important prevention is, we can prevent a lot of those high cost medical care items."
According to the American Dental Association, one visit to the emergency room for a tooth problem costs the U.S. health care system an average of $750. That cost falls on hospitals, insurance companies and patients themselves.
So the Delaware State Dental Society wants to help kids take care of their problems now, before they get worse and more costly.
Dover dentist Adam Sydell is filling 17-year-old Angel Saldana-Torres’ decayed teeth. The Seaford resident hasn’t seen a dentist in a year.
Sydell finishes the job in an hour, and he praises Angel for being such a trooper.
"Nice work today, Angel. Nice seeing you today bud. I appreciate your patience for coming in," Sydell said.
When asked how he felt, Angel said, "I feel a lot healthier."
Sydell said a lot of the patients who come to Give Kids A Smile don't have the money, insurance or resources to have follow-up care any time soon, so dentists who donate their time and services to Give Kids A Smile try to get as much work done as possible in the few hours they have.
"I think we ended up doing like five or six fillings on him. He did great. He was awesome to work on," Sydell said.
A 2013 assessment from Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services shows about 70 percent of children have tooth decay by high school.
The state’s dental society says children need proper education to prevent this. And that also means making parents more aware of their children’s needs.
Dover resident Alta Troyer stands nervously in the doorway of an exam room, watching Dr. Michael Aloe give her daughter Matilda, 8, some numbing medicine. Matilda is about to have a root canal.
"If you can open real wide for me, I’m just going to place this in the back. Real big for me. Good," Aloe said to Matilda.
Alta says money’s tight for her Amish family, so her daughter has never seen a dentist before.
"I guess she didn't have any problems, so we didn't take her," Alta said.
But about a month ago, Matilda's primary care doctor noticed she had cavities. So when Alta found out about Give Kids A Smile, it was the perfect opportunity to get some dental work done and learn new habits. Before, her nine children were hardly brushing their teeth once a day.
"I just wish we made the children brush their teeth in the morning and at night before they go to bed, and we didn’t," Alta said.
In the 15 years of Delaware’s Give Kids A Smile, dentists have treated more than 2,000 children across the state. This year, they treated almost 250 children in Wilmington, Middletown and Dover.
After a dentist sees a child, they refer them to local dentists, state clinics and federally qualified health centers, so children can continue to receive care regardless of economic or social barriers.
And maybe kids will sink their teeth into better brushing, flossing and dental habits.