LUMBERTON — Thanks to the generosity of some local dentists and an outreach effort, about 600 Robeson County children can smile with more confidence today.
That many children went through dental screenings as the Colgate Bright Smiles Bright Futures made a stop at Rowland Norment Elementary School on Friday, and then spent four hours at Walmart on West Fifth Street on Saturday.
The van provides screenings for at-risk children so parents will know if there is an urgent need to go to the dentist. Volunteers also give out toothpaste, toothbrushes and information about dental care, including a warning to stay away from those sugary soft drinks.
“By the time you’re a teenager, we are hoping that you have enough education and knowledge that you can do a much better job,” said Dr. Yvette Stokes, a pediatric dentist. “The key to your body is your mouth and medical science is finding out more and more every day that health of your mouth has a lot to do with the health of your body — gum disease, dental disease and abscesses are often times related to the health of your heart. Your teeth are not just your teeth. Your teeth are your body.”
Stokes, whose practice is in Fayetteville, is a member of The Links, a nonprofit that includes dentists that promote dental health. She was one of several dentists donating their time on Saturday. She said the biggest message to children is brushing, flossing, and diet.
“Diet is absolutely crucial. If you brush and you floss but your diet is extremely poor, it’s going to show up in dental disease.”
Maria Adams, chairperson for the health and human services committee of The Links, said people don’t always prioritize dental care.
“When people are trying to have their basic needs met, if it doesn’t hurt they are not going to fix it. They aren’t going to go (to a dentist) until they have to,” Adams said.
That’s why it’s important to get children in good dental health habits early, she said.
“We taught over 550 students oral health care yesterday. We had two doctors provide 474 dental screenings,” Adams said.
That number grew by 54 on Saturday.
Some children don’t have toothbrushes and toothpaste in their homes, Adams said, which most people take for granted. She said youths in their late teens are increasingly losing teeth because of poor dental health.
“In the last four years, I have seen at least nine young people from the ages of 18 to 21 lose all of their teeth from just not knowing how to take care of them, neglect — nobody making it a big deal. Your teeth don’t just affect your ability to eat, they affect your ability to digest food,” Adams said. “It affects your self-esteem.”
Lumberton pediatric dentist, Dr. Carey Collins, said part of the problem in Robeson County is a shortage of dental health providers. She volunteered her time Saturday and saw plenty of instances of children who needed additional care.
“Some of the kids we saw today had abscesses and really bad teeth, so we encouraged their parents to go ahead and make an appointment for Monday,” Collins said. “We don’t have a lot of dentists down here and they are backlogged with appointments so this is a good outreach for them.”
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.