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College of Dentistry brings smiles to West Side students

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Reena Patel, a student in the international dental program, visits with students

The tooth fairy (aka Reena Patel, right, a student in the international dental program), visits with a St. Malachy student getting a check-up.

Photo: Troy T. Heinzeroth

When Lyle Gray was escorted to the dental chair at the College of Dentistry’s Give Kids a Smile Day, he was not apprehensive like some youngsters.

The St. Malachy School second-grader jumped up into the seat and loudly declared, “This is awesome.”

More than 40 students from the West Side elementary school received free oral examinations, fluoride treatments, guided brushing instructions and health education at the 10th annual event Feb. 28.

UIC dental students performed the exams. The Chicago Dental Society provided goody bags with toothpaste, floss, toothbrushes and educational materials for the kids.

America’s youngest and poorest children average nearly five times as much tooth decay as children from higher-income families, and dental problems are often left untreated. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in four children ages 2 to 11 have untreated cavities in their baby teeth.

About 23 million children in the United States have no dental insurance coverage. Statistics show that these children are 2.5 times less likely than insured children to receive oral health care.

The UIC pediatric clinic, with 38 units and a staff of 12 faculty and residents, is the largest provider of dental services to children on Medicaid in Illinois.

The clinic has expanded to include services for underserved children with special needs. It also launched a health promotion and disease prevention program, enrolling cavity-free infants and their mothers to help the children remain free of oral disease.

To alleviate any fears the children might have had about a trip to the dentist, the college’s second floor looked more like a carnival than a clinic. Brightly colored balloons lined the hallways. Kari Radjewski, coordinator of extramural affairs, and graduate student Britni Robinson were busy painting designs on children’s faces.

And if the kids didn’t believe in the tooth fairy before, they may now. Reena Patel, a student in the International Dental Degree Program, flitted from one child to the next to help calm their nerves.

When the kids questioned whether she was real, she reached into her silver pocketbook, showed them all the teeth she had collected from underneath pillows, and said she’d be back when their baby teeth fell out.


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