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Feb. 6, 2023

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Kids’ smiles brighten up Dental Day

Over the years, program’s focus has shifted from treatment to prevention

By , Columbian political reporter
4 Photos
Dr. Joseph Kelly, left, chats with 9 year-old Samuel Pena, right, at a free children’s dental clinic held Saturday at Clark College.
Dr. Joseph Kelly, left, chats with 9 year-old Samuel Pena, right, at a free children’s dental clinic held Saturday at Clark College. (Steve Dipaola for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

How do you get 90 kids to all get through a dentist visit in one day? For the dental hygiene students who organized this year’s free children’s dental day at Clark College, the answer is simple: make it fun.

Three seniors in the college’s dental hygiene program, who helped organize the event, described how they made what is often a screaming, tear-filled chore into an amusing experience that’ll, hopefully, directs kids toward a lifetime of good dental care.

Maddie Wooley said they’ll give littler kids a ride up and down in the dental chair. Natalie Bergman added that they’ll let kids have some fun with a device that shoots water and air. Angela Garretson said that the bright-colored stickers placed on kids to indicate they’ve received x-rays and had their teeth cleaned also serve as rewards.

And for the dentists, hygienists and students who put on the event, providing the free service to the families and kids is its own reward.

“For many (families), this is the only time they get to see the doctor,” said Bergman. “And the people are just so thankful for their time.”

Kristi Taylor, the director of Clark College’s dental hygiene program, said that the program, now in its 12th year, has shifted its focus over the years from treatment to prevention. That means more x-rays, sealants, fluoride treatments, teeth-cleaning and other services with the aim of fewer extractions, she said. She said that students organize the event and provide much of the care, which is supervised by licensed dental hygienists and dentists.

“We have a large community of people who are repeat patients,” she said.

This big difference this year is Clark County’s measles outbreak. This year, parents were asked for proof of immunization and were turned away if they didn’t.

At Clark College’s Health Sciences Building, students wearing dark blue lab jackets scurried between patients while dentists, wearing white jackets, stood by. In one chair, 4-year-old Asher Swain, sat in the lap of his mom, Sarah, while having his teeth checked by Dr. Munib Derhalli.

“You have really nice teeth,” said Derhalli.

Derhalli had a hand from Asher’s twin brother, Oliver, who was decked out in a medical mask and latex gloves. After finishing, Derhalli thanked Oliver with a high-five for his help.

“I like this mask,” said Oliver.

“You’re not supposed to be happy,” said his father, Danny Swain, with a laugh.

Derhalli said he volunteers at the event because he enjoys the interaction with kids and sees an opportunity to set them on a path for good dental health. He said that earlier that day he worked on a kid with “bombed-out” teeth, but said there was hope for his sibling.

On the other side of the room, Silvia Pena encouraged her 9-year-old son Samuel to open his mouth wide. Pena, speaking in Spanish, said this is the second year she’s brought her kids Samuel and Citlaly, 16. She happily described how nice the students and doctors are and how coming to the event saves her money. She summed up the experience in one word: “fantastico.”

Columbian political reporter