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Smiles for Free in Springfield

The Medical Education Campus of Northern Virginia Community College in Springfield hosts a day of free checkups and cleanings for elementary students.

Sulma Canizalez has seen firsthand the obstacles posed by poor teeth to elementary students at her school.

"Sometimes they complain about their teeth hurting, and it's bleeding, and they come to the office. It's hard for them," said Canizalez, an office assistant at Hybla Valley Elementary School in Hybla Valley.

A program initiated by the American Dental Association (ADA) offered free dental care and information to nearly 300 Fairfax County children, through "Give Kids a Smile!" Day. The event took place on Friday, Feb. 4, at the Dental Hygiene School of the Medical Education Campus of Northern Virginia Community College, off Loisdale Road in Springfield.

"The purpose is to try to tackle the need for dental education and access to care, to try to make a little dent in the problem," said Dr. Brenda Young, a Fairfax general dentist, who oversaw the Springfield event.

Members of the Northern Virginia Dental Society, a division of the ADA, worked with the Fairfax County Office of Partnerships to identify families with low-income situations who might not have access to dental care. Through this process, two elementary schools — Hybla Valley and Mount Vernon Woods — along with a Child and Family Network center in Alexandria, were selected to bring their students to the NVCC campus for a day of dental immersion.

"They're showing kids how to brush and floss, take care of their teeth, and they'll take a packet home for their parents," said Young.

THE DENTAL Hygiene School — which opened in 2003 and offers a two-year program to achieve an associate in applied science (AAS) degree as a dental hygienist — closed down for the day, dedicating all its facilities to the program. All the students from the program, nearly 50 students, along with 20 ADA member dentists from across Fairfax County, their staffs, the staff of the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic in Falls Church, and other volunteers pitched in to run the large-scale operation. Students first spent time learning the basics about dental care, such as brushing techniques — which were demonstrated on a large, "Muppet"-style animal — and the importance of spending time on teeth. Then they lined up and marched into the dental hygiene area, where they received checkups, X-rays and if necessary, sealants for their teeth.

"This is a tremendous help. This is a school with so much need," said Yolanda Ballesteros, a parent liaison at Hybla Valley Elementary. "This is great, knowing that when they go back to their parents, they had the checkup and they can know how to follow up."

The event was the third annual "Give Kids a Smile!" Day and the second at the new Dental Hygiene School at NVCC. Crest donated toothbrushes and information packets for students to take home and sponsored the program as part of its "Healthy Smiles 2010" program, which also helps to provide dental services for low-income families. Sullivan-Schein, a dental supply company, also donated supplies.

While students at the event received more information than treatment, Young said the Northern Virginia Dental Society has plans for a similar event in April through the Virginia Dental Association's "Mission of Mercy" program.

"Maybe next year, we'll get some supplies and do some fillings," she said. "It gets a little bigger every year."