Health Department Provides Dental Care

Health Department Provides Dental Care

Free Dental Exams Draw Crowd

Danieyi Casanova sat in the dentist's chair as Dr. Deitra Kirk and her assistant Josephine Soriano hovered overhead. To add to the stress, Danieyi had an audience. Her entire family was in the room with her, watching as Kirk completed the dental screening.

"We're informing parents too. I show them how to take care of their kids' teeth and how to assist their smaller children in brushing properly," Kirk said.

On Friday, the Fairfax County Health Department and the Northern Virginia Dental Society provided free screenings for children up to 18 years old at three locations throughout the county.

At just the two health department locations — the Joseph Willard Health Center in Fairfax and the Herndon-Reston District Office in Reston — 159 children received basic dental services. The Dental Society provided services to about 40 children from the Arlington County Head Start program at the Northern Virginia Community College medical education campus in Springfield, said Dr. Brenda Young, project coordinator for the society.

The event coincided with Give Kids a Smile! National Children's Dental Access Day.

AT THE WILLARD CENTER, 99 children had shown up for the free screenings by 1 p.m., the clinics were offered from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"It's been an overwhelming response today," said Kirk, the on-staff dentist at the Willard Center. "There were about 10 people waiting here before 8 a.m."

On a year-round basis, the Health Department offers basic dental services to children ranging in age from 1 to 19 years old, who meet certain eligibility requirements. The services include dental screenings, oral hygiene instruction and providing toothbrushes to the patients. More complicated procedures, such as braces or difficult tooth extractions are typically referred to a participating dentist in the private sector. There are also limited adult services available.

Kirk came up with the idea of using the national awareness day as a way of promoting the services the clinic provides and to dispel myths concerning who can take advantage of the services.

"A lot of people don't know about our services. There are those who think you need to be born here," Kirk said. "We wanted to get the word out. This is just one of the health department's services. This is the place to go if you don't have insurance."

In fact, the health department's programs, including dental care, are available to all Fairfax County residents who are served by Medicaid or Unicare that meet certain net income and family-size requirements.

TYPICALLY, the center in Fairfax sees about eight to 10 patients each day, all by appointment only.

"The bulk of what we do is try to do prevention and patient education," said Donna Sutphin, the administrative assistant for the dental division. "We do almost everything."

Besides Fairfax, the health department center in Reston and the Mount Vernon District Office in Alexandria have on-site dentists.

Friday's event had the Fairfax office staffed by an additional volunteer dentist, a hygienist until midmorning and two dental students. Reston was slated to have a volunteer dentist to assist the on-staff person, but due to inclement weather, the staff personnel handled the crowd.

Weather also played a part in the Dental Society's program. The Head Start children were scheduled to be bused to the Springfield location, however, because the county schools were delayed two hours, less children came than anticipated.

"We had 60 volunteers, including dentists, hygienists, assistants and staff and students from the medical campus and the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic [in Falls Church]," said Young. "The children received exams, cleanings, some additional treatment."

"We got the bulk of the patients," said Sutphin. "We go until 3 p.m., and we're going to do as many as we can. We want to make sure all the children we saw today have access either with a private provider or with the health department."

AS FOR FRIDAY'S patients, Kirk said," I've been finding lots of cavities today."

She recommends parents bring their child to see a dentist as soon as the first tooth comes in rather than waiting until the child reaches a certain age.

"We've been seeing that by age 3, there is severe tooth decay," Kirk said.

She said parents should be making sure their children are brushing three times a day — before school, immediately after school and before bedtime. She said parents need to monitor their child's brushing, which should take three to five minutes each time, and actually help the smaller children. Proper brushing, she said is to brush at an angle to the gum line and for little children, use small circles focusing on one to two teeth at a time.

For more information about eligibility into the health department's dental program, call 703-246-7100.