THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 | Memphis, TN | Local News
Heavenlea James, 9, giggles as the tooth polisher tickles her gums while Angel Smith, dental outreach manager and dental hygienist with Christ Community Health Services, cleans her teeth at the former Hamilton Community Center on Tuesday.
Overcoming the ‘fear factor’
‘Dental Day’ builds smiles
By Lela Garlington
Apprehension and fear followed many of the children inside a makeshift dental office at the former Hamilton Community Center behind Hamilton High in South Memphis.
Six-year-old Phillexus Buchanan got a little extra reassurance Tuesday afternoon when she sat in the lap of her counselor as a dentist took a tiny flashlight and peered inside Phillexus’ mouth.
“Are you going to stick me?” she asked with wide eyes before opening her mouth.
“I’m just counting teeth,” said Dr. Orpheus Triplett with Christ Community Health Services.
“I was scared,” Phillexus said while she waited her turn to have her teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist. “I thought they were about to stick a needle in me.”
No needles were used during “Dental Day,” where about 40 children from the Memphis Athletic Ministries summer camp program got their teeth counted, cleaned and painted with “vitamins” of fluoride.
“Unfortunately, the only time they have had dental care is at the worst possible time when they are in severe pain,” said MAM community director Robert Sumner.
The program helps children ranging in age from 5 to 15 overcome that fear factor. “Even for the parents,” he said. “It’s a process.”
At times, four or five children surrounded the mobile dental chair and watched intently as dental outreach manager Angel Smith worked on a child. Smith didn’t seem to mind as she gave the children notice of what she was doing next.
“Now we are going to put vitamins on your teeth,” she said. Dabbing into a capsule, Smith applied pale yellow fluoride on each tooth.
Vontrell Isabel, 11, grimaced as he watched. “It looks like mustard,” he said. “It’s either that or I’m hungry.”
By the day’s end, organizers were happy with the results and hope to partner again with Christ Community Health Services. MAM is a nonprofit group that runs after-school programs and summer camps at 14 centers from Frayser to Whitehaven. Some, like the one at Hamilton, are in former community centers that were closed in 2009 and are now operated by MAM.
“We are connecting the families and the kids with social services,” said MAM’s social services coordinator Monica Kegler. “A lot of times with families who have TennCare, they are not using their benefits. We are minimizing the deficiencies that keep them from learning and excelling during the academic year.”