Dentistry faculty, residents bring bright smiles to local kids
By Matt Westerfield
Four-year-old Emmanuel Burns has a beautiful set of teeth, or so Dr. Shelley Ellis discovered after giving him an oral examination. "I'm so proud of you!" she beamed at the quiet little boy. "Do you know how many teeth you've got?"
Dr. Neva Eklund, associate professor and department chair of pediatric and public health dentistry in the School of Dentistry, shows 4-year-old Jaylin Garrison how wide he should open his mouth for an oral screening at Smith Elementary School.
Emmanuel nodded and held up two fingers.
"You know what?" Ellis said, smiling, "you've got two times ten, that's how many teeth you have."
Emmanuel, a pre-kindergarten student at Smith Elementary School in Jackson, was one of approximately 400 students at the school to be screened Sept. 22 as part of an oral health care awareness event put on by the Colgate: Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Program. The School of Dentistry's pediatric dentistry and public health faculty and pediatric residents at the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children participated in the event.
Early that morning, the Colgate mobile dental van arrived in front of the school and staff members began the daunting task of rotating groups of curious elementary students on board in small groups. In addition to Ellis, a pediatric dentistry resident, students were screened by faculty members Dr. Neva Eklund and Dr. Lubna Fawad, as well as Dr. Rose Reiss, also a resident.
"We are looking to see if they have decent hygiene - are they cleaning their teeth properly?" Eklund explained. "And they can also have clean teeth but rotten teeth, so we look for that as well and triage that decay."
Each student has a checklist and parents are notified of anything that requires immediate attention.
"It's about community outreach, but it's also about raising awareness of Children's Hospital where we can do it all," Eklund said. She explained that they're not trying to compete with the students' regular dentists but simply promoting oral health and education.
"We are the only pediatric dentistry residency in the state and the only place that will put kids to sleep," she said. "There are very few pediatric anesthesiologists in the whole country."
She mentions the student who was sitting in her exam chair several minutes earlier. The pre-K student is a prime candidate to refer to Children's Hospital, she said.
"He has decay in many places and he's only 4 years old," Eklund said.
Colgate's Bright Smiles, Bright Futures program promotes oral health care and prevention to underserved children around the world.
"There are eight vans around the country," said Nathaniel Green, who operates one of the Colgate dental vans with his wife, Holmesetta. "This van visits seven states around the South."
They paid a similar visit to Brown Elementary School in Jackson Sept. 23.